Special wheelchair allows beach access

June 29, 1992|By Knight-Ridder News Service

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. -- Mix a little sun-tan lotion with a little ingenuity, and summer no longer has to mean endless frustration for people in wheelchairs.

A new invention -- the first of its kind on the West Coast -- is hitting Santa Cruz beaches this summer, allowing wheelchair users to roll across sands that once stopped them in their tracks.

The Surf Chair is no run-of-the-mill wheelchair. With its inflatable orange wheels, white plastic frame and sun umbrella, the contraption looks more a giant Fisher-Price toy than the hippest new development in disabled-access equipment.

But the device works, according to early reports and disabled people.

Its wide tires don't get stuck in the sand like regular wheelchair tires. Made of PVC plastic, the chair doesn't corrode either, so users can sit at the surf line while water splashes against it.

"Before, when somebody would come down here in a wheelchair, all they could do was sit at the back of the beach -- the hottest part -- away from the water," said city aquatics supervisor Rick Gould.

Santa Cruz lifeguards say they hope now that they won't see as many families dragging and straining to carry people in wheelchairs across the unrelenting sand.

One disabled resident, Rob MacDougal, 42, took the chair for a test run recently.

"I think it's going to go over like crazy," he said, rolling down to water's edge. "All it needs is a cooler."

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