Beach-friendly facilities for wheelchair users are being considered by Cork County Council.
The initiative is likely to include specially-adapted wheelchairs that can provide access to sandy beaches and, possibly, a dip in the sea.
The facilities are likely to be piloted at a number of beaches in the county.
Last year, neighbouring Kerry County Council introduced a specially-designed Hippocampe chair, which glides over the sand. The chairs were initially made available at Inch beach, on the Dingle Peninsula, and at Ballinskelligs beach, in South Kerry, with plans to extend the project to Ballyheigue.
County Cork council officials confirmed that they are correlating the results of a survey, carried out in conjunction with Disability Federation and Cork Sports Partnership, on how the local authority can improve access to beaches for wheelchair-bound people.
One of the proposals came from Cllr Eoghan Jeffers, who suggested that the council purchase specially-adapted wheelchairs and locate them at certain beaches.
The wheelchairs, he explained, had what he described as “balloon-type tyres”, which would enable the user to negotiate sand and even get into the water.
Cllr Jeffers said such wheelchairs had the approval of the Irish Wheelchair Association and the Disability Federation.
Mary Ryan, the council’s director of rural development, said, in a report, that the local authority was dedicated to ensuring all its facilities, including beaches, were accessible to all members of the public.
She said the council, in conjunction with the Disability Federation and Cork Sports Partnership, had undertaken a survey of wheelchair-users to determine their requirements.
Ms Ryan said the survey responses were currently being compiled and evaluated and that the information would then be fed into the design process, for any works being carried out at Cork County Council beaches.
The type and level of works to be carried out would also be guided by the beach’s location, projected usage level, and the funding available.
Cllr Jeffers said he understood that not every beach would be suitable, but said that some of the major ones certainly would and he said that he welcomed Ms Ryan’s report.
“It’s a very worthy motion,” said Cllr Kevin Murphy.
“We, as a community, are denying, to the most vulnerable, access to our beaches. It would be very welcome by wheelchair-users,” Cllr Murphy said.
Cllr Michael ‘Frick’ Murphy said his niece was a wheelchair user and that she would be delighted to be able to have more access to beaches.
Wheelchair-bound Cllr Pat Murphy said that “providing the facilities would be an excellent idea,” and suggested HSE funding should also be sought for such a project.
“It would mean so much to people,” said Cllr Danielle Twomey. “We have newly-built ramps onto Youghal beach, but, with soft sand, people in wheelchairs can’t get across it.”
Council deputy chief executive, Declan Daly, said that he would ensure that Cllr Jeffers’ motion, and the unanimous support it received from colleagues in the chamber, were incorporated in the final report compiled by Ms Ryan.
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