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Port aux Basques' all-terrain wheelchair gets mixed reviews

A grant from the federal government and fundraising through the Lion’s Club helped raise money for an all-terrain wheelchair.
A grant from the federal government and fundraising through the Lion’s Club helped raise money for an all-terrain wheelchair. - Contributed

Sara Connors
Special to The Gulf News

Summer's in full swing and Channel-Port aux Basques recently introduced an all-terrain wheelchair it purchased last year to the Grand Bay West Beaches.
Interest in the equipment, however, has been virtually non-existent. 
The $5,000 wheelchair was only rented once last year, and hasn’t been rented at all this year. 
It can be used on flat surfaces, as well as various types of uneven terrain, such as sand or rocks. 
The wheelchair was purchased through a federal grant under the Enabling Accessibility Fund, with additional funds raised by the Lions Club. An accessible swing and ramp was also purchased for Rainbow Park. Both pieces of equipment are free to use.
But the only people who experienced the wheelchair first hand said it was anything but accessible. 
Home-care worker Velda Tapp rented the wheelchair last summer so her disabled client could enjoy the beach, but she said it’s “nothing to jump up and down about.”
After renting the wheelchair from the Bruce II Sports Centre, Tapp and her client set out towards Grand Bay West Beach Trailway, only to have Tapp lose control of the equipment’s steering several times.
“I couldn’t do anything with it. It almost tore my arms off,” she said. 
“The front wheel kept going ‘round and ‘round. It kept going out into the middle of the road. I would have to stop and pull it back. We didn’t get anywhere.”
Tapp and her client were unable to travel more than 100 feet before Tapp had to call a maintenance worker from Bruce II to help her bring it back to the centre. 
Tapp’s client was likewise unimpressed. 
“She didn’t think very much of it,” Tapp recalls. 
Channel-Port aux Basques economic development officer Shauna Strickland, who applied for the wheelchair’s grant, said it possibly didn’t work because Tapp used it on a flat surface, not the uneven terrain it’s intended to be used on. 
“I can’t judge her experience on it,” Strickland said. “I hope everybody’s experience is not that way.”
Strickland said the town is working to improve the wheelchair and increase usage. This summer, it will be stored closer to the beach on Kyle Lane and there’s signage nearby explaining how it's rented. 
Strickland said there will also be more advertising for the wheelchair on the town’s website and social media pages.
“We’re trying to get the message out,” she said. “It is a great addition to the community and we hope it will be used frequently this summer.”
Mayor John Spencer also hopes disabled residents and tourists will take advantage of the equipment and enjoy the Port aux Basques beaches before the summer ends.
“Allowing people to have access, it’s critical. It’s critical that we open our doors and open our minds to ensuring that our recreation facilities are open to all within our community.” 
But Tapp said unless the wheelchair is fixed, no one will be able to use it this summer. 
“I wouldn’t go again this summer and rent it out. The day I went out, it should have been sent out [for repair]. I ached for days trying to get over it,” she said.
“That’s a pretty sad story for the only person who used it.”

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