Sixty-seven-year-old Diana LaMonte requires a power wheelchair to get around. But it has its limitations and it can be upsetting and disheartening.
Whenever LaMonte goes to the beach, she could only enjoy the ocean from afar. Like most people with a disability, getting to the water is the biggest hurdle. There is no easy access, especially if you are in a wheelchair or rely on walking aids.
Seeing how close the water is from shore but still far away from reaching it due to her condition, LaMonte can’t help but feel sad. Her condition did not happen due to natural causes. It was inflicted on her. While working as a nurse four years ago, a patient punched her in the head and knocked her out. She suffered brain damage that severely affected her motor skills.
It has been four year since LaMonte experienced the simple pleasure of being able to walk in the water and feeling the sand on her feet. She has been dreaming of one day doing it again. Last Saturday that wish came true.
During the final celebration of Accessibility Week in Oceanside at the Community Park in Parksville, Jon Pimlott of Nanaimo brought a crude-looking cart that’s designed to transport a person in a wheelchair from shore to the water’s edge.
“When I met Diana eight months ago, she told me she could only get to one point,” said Pimlott, who is an inventor and a volunteer with the Accessibility Oceanside Association. “The area with cobblestones, that’s the barrier. She can’t get to the beach with her power wheelchair.”
Pimlott, who invented a boat for wheelchair canoeing, said the conversation he had with LaMonte got the wheels turning. He spent four months working on a design. He built a cart with the help of his son using spare bicycle parts and pieces of plywood. He calls it a “Freedom Cart.”
Last Saturday, LaMonte was the first to ever try it out.
With the help of volunteers, Pimlott easily loaded LaMonte and her wheelchair onto the cart. Then they pushed the cart out to the beach. They went over cobblestones, soft sand, watery patches and weeds with ease. And as soon as they were couple of metres away from the sea, LaMonte exploded in glee and delight.
“Rock ‘n’ roll,” LaMonte shouted.
With the use of a cane and with Pimlott assisting her, LaMonte walked and waded into the water. “This is amazing,” she cried. “After four years, I am in the ocean. It’s unbelievable.”
The Freedom Cart was not the only invention that was featured that day. Robert Anaka, who’s got multiple sclerosis, came out as well to test his three-wheeled walker on the beach. It is made out of aluminum and the wheels are larger than the normal walkers.
LaMonte got to test drive that as well. And she walked with it everywhere, through the water, puddles, and over the sand effortlessly.
“This is fabulous,” LaMonte said. “This walker is so stable. I don’t have to worry about it digging in the sand. It’s just great. I wanted to keep going.”
Anaka has been working on this concept for years. He was happy to see how LaMonte reacted to it.
“I found out that the walkers that existed, you couldn’t go anywhere,” said Anaka. “They couldn’t go through tiny pebbles. This is my first prototype and obviously I am really happy with what’s happened. I am thrilled. The idea is to get everybody out and moving.”