MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We head now from the farm to the beach for our weekly segment "On The Coast." Coastal reporter Bryan Russo shares the latest from the eastern shore of Maryland and coastal Delaware. Today, we learn how the town of Ocean City, Md has been going outside the box when it comes to getting on and around the beach in a wheelchair. And Bryan joins us now from Ocean City. Hey there, Bryan.
MR. BRYAN RUSSO
So Ocean City has created this beach wheelchair program to make the sand more accessible to disabled people. How exactly does it work?
Well, you can find beach wheelchair programs like the one in Ocean City up and down the coast. Several of the Delaware beaches have smaller wheelchair programs, like in Rehoboth, they have a handful of chairs. Bethany Beach, I think, has two. But they pale in comparison to Ocean City.
Ocean City has more than 16 locations at the top of the dune line where they keep the wheelchairs. The lifeguards help people get them out of the box and help the people get into the chairs. And the people can use it for the day or even for the week. All told, there are more than 40 beach wheelchairs for visitors to use while they're in town and they're free.
So I've seen a regular, you know, everyday wheelchair. I've never seen one of these beach wheelchairs and I'm having a bit of trouble picturing what it might look like. Can you describe one of them for us?
Well, the whole issue is mobility through the sand so the wheels are the most visibly different things. There are two oversized wheels in the front, kind of the size of a large pizza and two even bigger ones in the back, kind of like a smaller car tire but they're smooth and gray. They almost look like they can float. And they use these oversized wheels to help navigate over the sandy terrain. And as you might guess, they're not cheap. I went this week to see Wayne Pryor, the town's grant coordinator, and he basically purchases these chairs for the program.
MR. WAYNE PRYOR
When the program originated, we had PVC beach wheelchairs and what we found out was that the PVC did not hold up. And that due to the weather and elements and the usage that those, they started splintering. So we went and did the research. When I say we, the committee went and did the research and we came up with this beach wheelchair that's manufactured down in Florida by a company called Deming Designs. And currently, the price of the chair is $2,450 delivered to Ocean City.
And how is the town paying for all these beach wheelchairs?
It's all done by donations. See, this program was started a little more than a decade ago by Audrey Williams. She's a local woman who, at the time, was the city's chairperson for The Americans with Disabilities Act Committee. Wayne Pryor says she had a very passionate vision for this program.
She had this vision to be able to have people go to the ocean that were physically challenged and be able to enjoy it just like everyone else that does.
And she went door to door to raise the money for the first beach wheelchairs. And today, that philanthropic spirit continues as every chair in the town's beach wheelchair fleet has been paid for by donations.
We've raised as much as nearly $10,000 in a year to as small as $3,000 in a year and mostly we receive anywhere from right about now about 100 donations a year.
So who then is using these wheelchairs? What can you tell us about, you know, the people who rely on this service?
Well, I know a few families with elderly relatives who have mobility problems and they make a point to go to the beach on 40th Street where they have one of these wheelchair boxes. But the population using this program is much broader than you'd think. Here's Tina Quick, she works in the town's Recreation and Parks Department and she's tasked with handling the hundreds of requests for beach wheelchairs during the summer season.
MS. TINA QUICK
Sometimes we have requests from people who possibly have had some type of surgery, knee surgery or foot surgery and they just are incapacitated. They're not able to walk and they want to have access to the beach so we do allow them to transport to the beach. Of course, then at that point, they have to get themselves positioned in whatever other chair they have and then return it so that other people can use it.
Bryan, as you know, summer is pretty much here so for people who might be coming to Ocean City and they want to use one of these wheelchairs. What should they do?
Well, they can go on the oceancitymd.gov website and search for beach wheelchairs. That will give them a list of all the beaches from the inlet to the 145th Street that have the wheelchair boxes. You can also reserve them by going to the Convention Center on 41st Street or at the police station on 65th Street.
Before we wrap up, I'm curious how are people responding to this program in Ocean City, people who perhaps, you know, couldn't access the beach without it.
Well, Ocean City has a very substantial ADA program and the beach wheelchair program is an added feather in the cap, so to speak. Wayne Pryor says they've gotten a lot of positive feedback over the years.
It's very touching to see some of the stories, people sending photos in where they haven't been able to get to the ocean's edge, in some cases, their entire lives.
And now, he says right here in Ocean City, they can finally feel the ocean breeze on their skin.
Well, Bryan, as always, it's been a pleasure having you here on "Metro Connection." Thanks for joining us.
Thanks, Rebecca, have a good weekend.
Bryan Russo is the host of Coastal Connection on 88.3 in Ocean City, Md. To learn more about the beach wheelchair program and to see Bryan's photographs from the coast, visit our website, metroconnection.org
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