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Tuesday, August 20 News

Floatable wheelchairs debut at area beaches

WESTPORT — Beaches just got more accessible at the Fairfield County shoreline.

On Tuesday, SMILE Mass (Small Miracles in Life Exist) donated floating beach wheelchairs to Fairfield, Norwalk and Westport. Founded in 2010 in Massachusetts, SMILE Mass is an organization dedicated to improving the lives of disabled people around the world.

Lotte Diomede, co-founder of SMILE Mass, said she and co-founder Susan Brown started the group for their children who had disabilities.

“We decided it should stand for them one day growing up and being able to access the world,” Diomede said during a presentation at Compo Beach.

SMILE Mass has since donated over 130 floating beach wheelchairs throughout the New England area. The floatable wheelchairs, which resemble beach recliners, have shock-absorbing wheels that allow for easy maneuverability through sandy terrain.

Diomede was joined by Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe, Westport Parks and Recreation Director Jennifer Fava, Fairfield First Selectman Mike Tetreau, and Norwalk Parks and Recreation Director Nick Roberts at Compo Beach for the donation.

Marpe said the new floatable wheel chair represents the continued effort to make Compo Beach accessible to everyone.

“We’ve taken Compo Beach and made it so much more accessible in the past several years,” he said. “We’ve just been trying to make the beach accesible to everyone and this is the icing on the cake.”

Fava echoed Marpe’s sentiments, and said when she first found out about SMILE Mass last summer she saw a great opportunity.

“This is a great continuation for everything we are trying to do here in the town,” she said, adding her department is always looking to increase accessibility for those with disabilities.

Tetreau said the new floating beach wheelchairs represented not only a gift, but an opportunity.

“We’ve got five coastal beaches in Fairfield and we try to make each one increasingly accessible to people who are disabled,” he said.

While extensive networks of sidewalks in Fairfield have helped place people close to the water, the new wheelchair would provide even better access, Tetreau said.

“This is a phenomenal opportunity to provide access to all of our recreational facilities to everybody,” he said.

Meanwhile, Roberts said the wheelchairs will be a great addition along with the recently installed moving mats at Norwalk’s beach.

“These wheel chairs will provide more additional access to our water,” he added. “We thank SMILE Mass and the organization for their work.”

One day, Diomede said she and Brown dream to have their floatable beach wheelchairs throughout all the United States and hope to make the world accessible for those like their children.

“We thought if we could leave it a little better than where we found it we would make a good path for them,” Diomede said.

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dj.simmons@hearstmediact.com

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