Disability beach mat unveiled at Happy Valley
“One of the most riveting moments in my life.”
This is how Summerstrand resident Jannie Fick of Cheshire Homes described his day at the beach yesterday, being to able, after a long absence, to put his toes in the sand and seawater.
This would not have been possible had it not been for the department of environmental affairs unveiling a disability beach mat as part of its coastal access awareness campaign.
The mat that was rolled out onto the sand from the ramp at Happy Valley extends right into the sea, allowing those who are wheelchair-bound and those who use crutches access to the beach.
Nelson Mandela Bay municipality’s beaches, resorts and events manager Kurt Cain said the municipality was working in partnership with the department to realise this vision and provided the assurance that the mat would be rolled out every day.
“This is a rollout project by the department. The mat will stay at Happy Valley for the next three months and then it will travel to other parts of the country,” Cain said.
He added that the municipality was looking at purchasing a mat, which has a lifetime lifespan, when budget is available. One mat costs about R400,000.
A cheerful Fick, who was bare-chested with brightly floral board shorts, said his experience of the beach was different from what he remembered.
“I enjoyed getting into the water, it felt refreshing and cool. I’m looking forward to coming here more often,” he said.
Another PE resident and employee at the Association for People with Physical Disabilities, Koomathie Nanir, said she was glad her colleague had brought her to the beach.
“My day has been made. I really appreciate this initiative by the department of environmental affairs and municipality,” she said.
“I believe this is something that was long overdue and I know other people who are not able to easily get into the water will enjoy it, too.”
One of the APD social workers in attendance, Nomatolo Mnyakana, said the mat would help many of the organisation’s members.
“Instead of them sitting on the side and watching able people run along the seashore and enjoying the water, they, too, will have the opportunity to submerge themselves in the water and swim.
“It was amazing seeing my colleague Koomie enjoy herself, and I’m very sure she will be coming back to make use of the mat,” Mnyakana said.
The social worker said the organisation would also be bringing more of their beneficiaries to Happy Valley on beach outings.
“The mat is not only wheelchair-friendly, but people who use crutches can also use the mat,” she said.
Trained lifeguards were stationed along the beach, assisting eager swimmers off the mat and into the water.