A concerted effort is underway to make White Rock beach more accessible to people with mobility issues.
For members of the Self Advocates of Semiahmoo, the idea to purchase specially designed wheelchairs that can be used on the sand is one that simply makes sense: everyone should be able to access the waterfront, feel the sand and put their feet in the water.
“Just to be like everybody else,” SAS chair Alex Magnussen said Monday, during the group’s monthly meeting at Semiahmoo House Society.
“I went to the beach my whole life. To wait 20-something years to do that, it’s sad. I can’t imagine how very cool it would be to do that for the first time.”
SAS was formed by Semiahmoo House Society members to support their peers with developmental disabilities, raise awareness and promote inclusion. Most recently, a contingent travelled to the B.C. legislature in Victoria to join a rally protesting proposed changes to transit passes for people with disabilities.
The idea to fundraise for the wheelchairs was inspired by self-advocacy speaker Onkar Biring, who shared with the group about a time he and his girlfriend couldn’t access the foreshore. Biring, who has cerebral palsy, uses mobility support, and his girlfriend uses a wheelchair.
SAS advisor Jill Glennie said the story “really resonated with the self-advocates,” who decided shortly after that they wanted to fundraise to ensure others with mobility issues don’t have the same experience.
“He was the inspiring moment,” Glennie said.
While details of how the chairs will be offered are still being worked out, fundraising – including a clothing sale this evening (Wednesday, at 15306 24 Ave.) – is hoped to raise enough to have one of them available at the waterfront in time for Canada Day.
For Jacquelyn Perry, Madison VanOene and Terri Schmidt, who all rely on motorized wheelchairs, access to such a beach-accessible unit – with its oversized tires that do not sink into the sand – would mean they could experience the sand and sea for the first time.
“I can’t go down to the water, and I want to go down to the water,” Schmidt said.
Johnnie Charlie said he used the wheelchairs in Hawaii and California, and is confident they would be well-received here.
“It was fun to use on the beach,” Charlie said. “We need those wheelchairs for Crescent and White Rock beaches.”
For Manjeet Ghangass, who has had some challenges with walking due to being born with Down syndrome, the effort is part of a commitment she made to some close friends in high school, after they shared some of their difficulties.
“I promised them that I would try to make sure (there would) be a way that they could have an easier life,” she said. “If I’m having a hard time myself, can you imagine how hard it would be for someone in a wheelchair?”
The SAS members are adamant the effort is not just for their own benefit, or that of their friends.
Nor will it be their last.
“This is the first of many,” Magnussen said.
“Help make the world accessible for everyone.”
To donate to the effort or for more information, email Glennie at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 604-536-1242.