JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. -- The Beaches Council for the Disabled has been working more than for twenty years to make First Coast beaches more accessible for those with disabilities by adding ramps, showers, parking spaces and beach wheelchairs.
"I usually walk with a walker; I was born with Cerebral Palsy. I was born two months early."
Kara Tucker is the President of the Beaches Council for the Disabled, but she also knows first-hand the importance of those with disabilities to be able to access the beach.
"To be able to go on the beach with my walker is not necessarily easy because I don't have the big balloon wheels like the chair has," says Tucker.
According to Gary Fiske, who sits on the council's Board of Directors, those balloon wheels and their PVC pipe frames aren't easy to maintain.
"Salt gets into the bearings, wears them out," Fiske explains.
"Just like anything else down here on the beach, it's really rough out here, with the salt and sand it takes a number on anything, whether it's PVC or stainless steel, it still takes a beating."
The chairs aren't cheap either. Fiske was one of three police officers who pushed for the addition of the first beach wheelchairs back in the early 80's. He said each one costs about $1100.
However, beach-goer, Mallory Courtney, said it is well worth the cost. She said a car accident left one of her friends paralyzed, but seeing her still get to experience the beach brought her to tears.
"We pushed her down to the beach, she got to touch the sand, she played with it with her hands and everything, and it was just a phenomenal thing to watch," Courtney says.
"You could just be a passerby and you could feel the energy from the family."
Fiske said when the council first started it had just four beach wheelchairs. This year, when the beaches open, he said it will have about fifteen at the beaches as far north as Fernandina Beach all the way south to St. Augustine Beach.
There's no limit on the number of hours you can use a beach wheelchair. To sign one out, visit the lifeguard station between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. and show identification.
The Beaches Council for the Disabled is a nonprofit group. Each chair is solely paid for by fundraising efforts and community donations and sponsorship.
For more information on the council or the beach wheelchairs, go to http://www.beachescouncilforthedisabled.com.
First Coast News