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Special Wheelchair Gives Disabled People Access to Beaches

August 10, 1992

CHICAGO (AP) _ An $800 wheelchair that has fat wheels like a dune buggy is helping disabled people cross yet another barrier: the soft sands of beaches.

″We’ve gotten people coming down on the beach who haven’t been there in 17 years,″ said Mike Hensler, the chair’s inventor. ″It’s just a real pump to have them come and enjoy the beach.″

Hensler, 42, a Daytona Beach, Fla., lifeguard, said he has built 70 of the chairs since last year.

The chair has a green vinyl seat and four bright orange tires resembling inner tubes. An umbrella and a backpack are available as attachments.

The Americans with Disabilities Act does not require beaches to provide access for the disabled, but beach operators in states including California, Delaware, New Jersey, Ohio and South Carolina have ordered them anyway.

The Chicago Park District has installed two at each of its seven Lake Michigan beaches. They are available, free, to disabled people.

″This has made the whole lakefront accessible,″ said Rob O’Connor, the district’s supervisor of beaches and pools.

Hensler generated interest for the chair in October when he took one to the U.S. Lifesaving Association convention in Baltimore.

″My first thought was, ’What is that thing?‴ said Rick Gould, aquatic supervisor for Santa Cruz, Calif., the only California beach using the chairs. ″Once I saw it, I grabbed as much literature on it as I could.″

Sammy Jaramillo, 75, of San Jose, Calif., who was paralyzed on his right side by a stroke, used one of the chairs at Santa Cruz for the first time Saturday.

″It is really fantastic for handicapped people,″ said his wife, Ida, 39. ″Now that I’ve found a way, I can take him with me all the time.″

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