White Rock’s beach is weeks away from becoming more accessible to people with mobility issues, thanks to the efforts of a dedicated group of adults with developmental disabilities and a donation by a Peninsula father.
Securing a wheelchair that can navigate the uneven, sandy surface of the shoreline for public use has been a focus of the Self Advocates of Semiahmoo for nearly a year.
For group member Jacquelyn Perry, the access to the waterfront that such a vehicle opens up is something she’s awaited for more than half of her life.
“It means to me, I can be with my friends more… not left out,” Perry said.
At 26, Perry, who has cerebral palsy and relies on a motorized wheelchair, hasn’t been able to get out onto the sand in about 15 years – despite living just blocks away.
Wednesday, she celebrated the donation of a brand-new Water Wheels chair by Peninsula resident David Nash fittingly – by taking its oversized wheels and lounge-style chair out for its inaugural spin with her parents and other supporters.
“Look how far you can go now,” Vern Perry told his daughter, as the beaming young woman touched the sand, seaweed and seashells.
“You made it happen.”
SAS was formed by Semiahmoo House Society members to support their peers with developmental disabilities, raise awareness and promote inclusion.
The idea to fundraise for the wheelchairs was inspired by visiting self-advocacy speaker Onkar Biring, who told the group last fall about a time he and his girlfriend couldn’t access the foreshore because of mobility challenges.
SAS advisor Jill Glennie described the guest speaker as the “inspiring moment” that led the advocates to raise about $3,000. Media attention to that effort led Nash – whose son has mobility challenges – to donate the chair.
“It was really amazing,” Glennie said.
Support worker Melinda Edgson, who has worked with Perry since 1999 and who joined her on her beach visit, agreed the development is more significant than people may realize.
“Lots of people have no idea so many people are missing out on the beach,” she said.
She recalled one field trip seven years ago, when Perry and now-boyfriend Kirk Latimer could only watch from afar as their friends frolicked by the shoreline.
“The sensory experience – I can’t even put into words how valuable it is. It’s important for all human beings to have that,” she said. “This is going to be so great.”
SAS members will further celebrate the Water Wheels’ arrival during Canada Day celebrations at the waterfront, when the chair will be showcased from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. adjacent to the tourism booth, in the 14900-block of Marine Drive.
Glennie said prior to the chair being publicly available at Feral Boardsports in East Beach by August – there will initially be a small cost to use it, until ongoing funding sources are in place – two access points need some grade adjustments.
She said funds raised by the advocates will help cover other costs associated with the service, as well as eventually add as many wheelchairs as needed to the program.
“A lot of hotels all around the world have been using them for a long time,” she said. “These make a lot of sense for the community that we’re in.”