Wheels for the beach: Donated wheelchairs enable water access to all

Savannah Vasquez
Beach wheel chairs are offered to the public free of charge and are currently available at the Shirah Public Beach Access.

At the end of the boardwalk ramp at the Shirah Public Beach Access sit three PVC pipe beach wheelchairs with large rubber wheels. The chairs have been made available free of charge to the public by the Destin Fire Control District’s Beach Safety Program, but it has not always been that way.

“It started about 11 years ago after one of the hurricanes had destroyed a lot of beach access ramps,” Beach Safety Chief Joe D’Agostino said. “I saw some of them at other beaches in the nation, and I realized a lot of people coming to visit Destin traveled all this way to get to our beaches and then did not have access to the last few feet to make it down to the water. I would see maybe a family of 10 with 9 people on the beach and one person on the balcony waving down at the rest because they were in a wheelchair.”

D’Agostino said from that time on, he began sharing the need for public beach wheelchairs every chance he got and soon the Destin Rotary Club and the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Posse each donated for the cause. The third beach wheel chair however, came several years later and stands out from the rest as it displays a sign reading, “Given to the glory of God by the Church of Destin.”

This chair donated in 2013 was a community effort spawned from the annual gathering in Destin called the Week of Blessings.

“I’m involved with the Church of Destin, which is when most of the churches in Destin get together to work on the week of blessings,” said Nancy Weidenhamer, who spear-headed the wheelchair project. “We ask for donations at the events and the money received from that we donate it back to the city of Destin. I saw a great need for a beach wheelchair because it just pulls at your heart when you see someone using that,” she said. “So the Church of Destin donated $1,000 towards the wheelchair. It’s something very needed. I’m pretty sure those are well used.”

Today, if you head over to Shirah Public Beach Access you will see the wheelchairs in use, but D’Agostino said he doesn’t want to limit visitors to just one beach.

“Right now, we can only offer them at the Shirah Beach Access,” he said. “I’m working to get them at James Lee Park and June White Decker so we can offer them at all the county and city parks. I’m working on getting storage sheds in there right now.”

To have a beach wheelchair delivered for use call Destin Fire Control District Station 9 at 850-837-8413.