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September 4, 2015 6:18 am

Wheelchair-Bound Israelis Swim in Ocean for First Time

avatar by Michael Bachner / Tazpit News Agency

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An amphibious wheelchair. Photo: Facebook.

An amphibious wheelchair. Photo: Facebook.

A dozen disabled Israelis got to experience a day at the beach — some for their first time — using special amphibious wheelchairs on Wednesday, September 2.

The event was organized by the Blue Flag Program, which promotes environmental awareness at beaches around the world, and by the Netanya Municipality, which wanted to raise public awareness for wheelchair-accessible beaches in Israel.

“I was confined to a wheelchair 15 years ago, and since then it’s been almost impossible to go to the beach,” Haya Kenan, one of the disabled participants told Tazpit. “I need a special amphibious chair with large inflatable wheels, that can easily ride on the sand and float in the water, but I also need someone to accompany me.”

“One of the people told me it was the first time in her life swimming in the ocean; it was really exciting,” added Kenan. “It’s a very special and rare experience for people like her, to simply take a refreshing swim in the ocean. This is a really unique and special experience.”

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Blue Flag is an international designation, which in the past 30 years has been awarded to more than 4,000 beaches and marinas in almost 50 countries around the world. One of the 32 requirements that beaches are supposed to meet in order to achieve a Blue Flag is accessibility for disabled people.

There are 25 Blue Flag beaches in Israel, 23 of which are accessible for disabled people, including beaches in Tel Aviv, Eilat and Haifa.

“Accessible beaches have to include disabled parking spots. They have a path leading to a special pavilion with a concrete floor so a standard wheelchair can get there, and from there we have the amphibious chairs,” said Orly Babitsky, organizer of the event and manager of the Blue Flag program in Israel through Ecoocean, a non-profit organization.

“This issue doesn’t have enough awareness in Israel, so we organized this event to show that handicapped people can definitely go to the beach and even into the water,” added Babitsky to Tazpit.

Kenan agrees. “It’s very important to make beaches accessible; we need as many beaches as possible to have such pavilions and amphibious wheelchairs because these are people who hardly get to go to the beach,” she said to Tazpit.

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