Special wheelchairs hit Kerry beach to help people with mobility issues

A county which tops the Blue Flag list is making access to some of its beaches easier, this summer, for people with mobility issues.

Kathleen O'Sullivan and daughter Hanna from Portmagee, Co Kerry, on Ballinskelligs Beach, Co Kerry. Pic: Valerie O'Sullivan

Beach-friendly wheelchairs have been introduced to two of the top strands in Co Kerry, which boasts 13 Blue Flag amenities.

The specially adapted beach Hippocampe chairs are available at Inch at the entrance to the Dingle peninsula and at Ballinskelligs beach in the south of the county.

The specially-designed chairs will shortly be in Ballyheigue in the north of the county, ensuring the whole coastline is represented.

The chairs, with specially-designed wheels, are free of charge, available seven days a week but must be booked in advance at the two beaches, council spokesman Owen O’Shea said.

They glide over the soft sand, unlike regular wheelchairs.

Mr O’Shea said users will require the assistance of an adult to operate them.

Terry O’Brien, a Tralee-based county councillor who works with the Irish Wheelchair Association and is himself a wheelchair user, said the move is hugely important for such a beach-friendly county.

“A regular wheelchair would get stuck in the sand but these chairs are very easy to operate and to manoeuvre on the sand.

“This is a great initiative in Kerry and, hopefully, we can see more of them available at our beaches in the years ahead,” said the councillor, who is a service co-ordinator with the Irish Wheelchair Association.

The Hippocampe wheelchairs have a number of features, including balloon wheels to make it easier for beach users with a disability or mobility restrictions to move on the beach.

The chairs can be booked in advance for three-hour slots. Users have to present a valid photo ID.

Teresa O’Sullivan brings her sister Hanna for a spin on Ballinskelligs Beach, Co Kerry. Picture: Valerie O’Sullivan

Director of services with Kerry Co Council, John Breen said the wheelchairs have the approval and support of the Irish Wheelchair Association, Enable Ireland and the Disability Federation of Ireland.

“I would like to acknowledge the support and assistance of local community operators who are taking responsibility for bookings. We are very grateful for this support.

“It will take time for anyone to adapt to the Hippocampe and it must not be immersed. The Hippocampe wheelchair is not a boat. It allows entry into the water up to the height of the wheelchair axle and is not designed to float with the user in it,” he said.

The council is also requesting that users wear buoyancy aids if entering the water and, in such cases, advises a carer or personal assistant is required.

The chairs are available through July and August from 12pm to 7pm, Monday to Friday, and from 11am to 7pm at weekends.
n To make a booking for Ballinskelligs, contact 087 296 5874 or for Inch, call 086 266 3186

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