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City accepts floating wheelchair donation

Daily News of Newburyport - 6/3/2024

Jun. 3—NEWBURYPORT — Mayor Sean Reardon and Ward 2 City Councilor Jennie Donahue were among those present as the city received a floating wheelchair Thursday afternoon on Plum Island Point.

It is hoped by officials that the donation, made by SMILE Mass, will increase the number of people who can access Plum Island's beach this summer and beyond.

The chair will be stored at Plum Island Point and overseen by the Harbormaster Department. Those interested in reserving the chair for a portion of the day will be able to do so soon on the city's website.

Harbormaster Paul Hogg, Newburyport Commission on Disabilities co-Chair Kristen Farrell, commission member Omni Raimo, and SMILE Mass founder and President Lotte Diomede also attended the brief ceremony. Donahue is also on the commission.

"It is my hope that this accessible beach chair will be in such high demand this season, there is opportunity to receive another chair next year," Donahue said in a statement Friday. "I encourage folks to spread the word about the opportunity to enjoy Plum Island Beach the same as everyone."

Reardon said the donated wheelchair is part of the city's strategy to make Newburyport more accessible to all.

"This donation from SMILE and the work of the Commission on Disabilities is crucial for achieving these accessibility goals," Reardon said Friday. "We already installed two universally accessible playgrounds and I want to tackle some of our streets and sidewalks next but this donation of the floating beach wheelchair is a great addition to the city which will make access to our beautiful beaches possible for our residents and visitors with disabilities."

SMILE Mass, or Small Miracles in Life Exist, is a nonprofit organization that helps families raising children or adults with disabilities enjoy happy, healthy memories through education, vacation and recreation experiences, according to its website.

Diomede, in a statement, called the presentation "a perfect example of a town committed to making the world more accessible for those with disabilities."

"With the mayor, the harbormaster, members from various offices promoting disability and senior awareness, and several members of the disabled community in attendance, it speaks volumes about the town's dedication to making the world a better place for all," Diomede said.

Plum Island Point is one of several public beaches receiving floating wheelchairs this spring and summer.

Amesbury officials were expected to receive a chair and accessibility signs for Lake Gardner on Saturday, Diomede said.

Manchester-by-the-Sea and Mass Audubon in Barnstable received chairs last week. Dennis, which has nearly 20 chairs for its town beaches, is working with SMILE Mass to purchase additional chairs at a special discounted rate. Other beaches to receive chairs are in Nahant and Standish, Maine, according to SMILE Mass.

Getting a floating chair for Plum Island has been in the works for about a year after a SMILE Mass representative contacted the city. The chairs have proven to be a big hit at Salisbury Beach State Reservation and the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, Farrell said in an earlier interview.

Since its inception, SMILE Mass has donated more than 180 floating beach wheelchairs for public ponds and beaches throughout New England to make them more accessible to the disabled. The program was established to ensure that local ponds and beaches are accessible to everyone, according to organization officials.

Due to the overwhelming demand for the program, the organization launched the Floating Beach Wheelchair Awards Program, which allows communities to apply for their own floating beach wheelchair. Officials associated with the community or residents could apply for the award to make their beach more accessible.

For more information on floating beach wheelchairs, visit www.smilemass.org.

Dave Rogers is the editor of the Daily News of Newburyport. Email him at: drogers@newburyportnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @drogers41008.

Dave Rogers is the editor of the Daily News of Newburyport. Email him at: drogers@newburyportnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @drogers41008.

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