Water Wheelchair Gives People With Disabilities More Access at Greenwich Point

Joe Dowling testing out the new water wheelchair (Richard Kaufman photo)

By: Richard Kaufman

Last summer, the Town of Greenwich, with help from the Greenwich Lions Club, installed a beach mat at Greenwich Point that allows residents with disabilities and parents with strollers or carts the ability to walk on a sturdy platform all the way down to the waterline.

Now, beachgoers with disabilities can utilize a multi-function beach wheelchair to actually go into the water and enjoy some fun in the sun.

On Monday, the Greenwich Lions Club, First Selectman Fred Camillo, and Greenwich Parks and Recreation Director Joe Siciliano, officially christened the new wheelchair at the Susie Baker Pavilion at Greenwich Point. The Lions Club wanted to unveil the “Water Wheels” earlier this summer, but COVID-19 delayed it until the last day of Summer.

The First Selectman’s Advisory Committee for People with Disabilities had the idea for the chair after looking at how they could improve on the beach mat and give people more access to the water. The Lions Club raised money through their annual grapefruit sale and pancake breakfast. The chair cost just under $3,000.

“It’s really made to give people who may have had issues walking into the water the ability to go into the water for the first time, or go in for the first time in a long time,” said Lions Club member and the chair of the First Selectman’s Advisory Committee for People with Disabilities, Alan Gunzburg.

Gunzburg has long been an advocate in town for inclusion and allowing access to town amenities for all.

“You can’t have a diverse group without people with disabilities. You can have all different groups, but without having people with disabilities you really don’t have all the voices and people at the table,” Gunzburg said. “With [the Advisory Committee], what we’ve done is try to develop ways of finding accessibility to increase inclusion.”

The chair’s wheels can handle all terrain, and it has yellow devices on each arm that are set up as flotation devices. A five-point harness straps the user in.

Greenwich resident Joe Dowling, a wheelchair athlete who frequents Greenwich Point, tested out the new chair on Monday and said he’s looking forward to using it in the future.

“This is really nice,” he said, noting that he might encourage his two sons to come out and hit the beach with him. “My one son is a swimmer, so he may even take me swimming. Who knows.”

Camillo said the addition of the chair is long overdue.

“We just can’t thank the Lions Club enough. We’d like to see this at every beach and make sure everyone has equal access to all of our amenities. We’ll work on Byram Beach next,” Camillo said. There is currently a beach mat already in place at Byram Beach.

Camillo said that in the future, if there is enough demand around town for more chairs, he could seek to add funds in the budget, or fundraise and present the matter to the Representative Town Meeting for approval.

The chair will be stored near the beach mat, and will be available on a first come, first serve basis. Siciliano said he was happy to partner with the Lions Club and the town to help bring the chair to fruition.

“This opens up a whole new avenue for folks that would like to have that experience [of enjoying the water], and they should be able to have it whenever they want to come here,” Siciliano said. “This is just one little step in what we can do together. The Lions Club has been really great for us. They’ve come through on a couple of projects, like the beach mat and now the chair. It’s great to partner with people that are interested in doing this.”