BEACHES across Lothian are set to be made more accessible for the disabled amid plans to roll out sand-friendly wheelchairs along the coastline.
Scores of disabled children, adults and OAPs would be able to hire the specially designed wheelchairs built to withstand sandy terrains and the ocean surf.
North Berwick is set to receive the first beach wheelchairs, but plans are being drawn up to extend them across Lothian.
It is thought the move would herald the first dedicated beach wheelchair service in Scotland.
Run by the Beach Wheelchair Project, it is hoped a string of wheelchairs will be available at shorelines in Portobello and even Oban within the coming months.
“The average wheelchair simply is not designed for beach use,” said project co-founder Alison Brown.
“But Scotland is home to some of the most gorgeous beaches in the world, and to live right next door to the sea but not be able to fully enjoy it just isn’t right.”
The 36-year-old from North Berwick has long struggled on family outings to the seaside – as her six-year-old son Ethan heavily relies upon a wheelchair to get around. The Windygoul Primary pupil was born with brittle bone disease, and is unable to take part in regular school trips to East Lothian beaches because they aren’t wheelchair-friendly. And visits to Portobello’s popular beach tend to start and end at the promenade for Ethan and his family.
But after a recent holiday to France, Mrs Brown was surprised to find numerous beaches letting out specially-designed wheelchairs for public use. “There just aren’t any schemes like that in Scotland,” she said. “We decided we wanted to bring the idea home with us.”
Project co-founder Jackie Tagg, 57, added that the wheelchairs aren’t just for children.
“My mother was paralysed, and my brother was also disabled and had to use a wheelchair,” she said. “For many years, whenever they said they wanted to go to the beach, we always had to tell them no. We don’t have to do that anymore. Everyone should be included, and that’s why we’re hoping to have two beach wheelchairs available for hire on North Berwick beach by the spring – with a view to see them introduced all over the country.”
Beach wheelchairs tend to feature double-width wheels that work better on sand, and light frames that won’t weigh down users in wet conditions. Durable materials also ensure the wheelchairs can be used in extremely high temperatures and maintain buoyancy for use near the water.
Members of the Beach Wheelchair Project are already on the hunt for grants to begin acquiring their chairs, which cost at least £4000 each.
Meanwhile, harbour officials have already volunteered storage provision for the wheelchairs and volunteers offering their services to help administer the scheme.