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Wheelchair users will have access to Lake Michigan at all of Evanston’s six beaches next year. And at least two beaches will provide free beach wheelchairs that can maneuver over the sand to the water.

Wheelchair-friendly Mobi-Mats, like this one at Clark Street Beach, will be installed at all six Evanston beaches before the 2023 swim season. Credit: Richard Cahan

Audrey Thompson, Director of Parks and Recreation, outlined the city’s plan at the Parks and Recreation Board meeting Thursday night. She said the city is ordering Mobi-Mats – rollout, wheelchair-friendly pathways like the ones at Clark Street Beach that will extend near the water.

“This is a right-now project,” she said, “even though the beaches are closed for swimming.”

The Evanston RoundTable detailed the lack of access to the water for wheelchair users earlier this month. The RoundTable found that paths for ordinary wheelchairs only reach the lake at Lee Street Beach. In that story, Thompson had estimated it would cost $80,000 at the start to purchase mats for all beaches and beach wheelchairs, but after Thursday’s vote she said officials were still in the process of obtaining quotes on the mats and wheelchairs.

The unstable and dangerous plastic boardwalk at Lee Street will be replaced by more modern Mobi-Mats, Thompson said.

A floating beach wheelchair can be pushed on the sand into the water. Credit: Waterwheels

Park officials are studying which beach wheelchairs to buy.

The choice is complicated, Thompson said. Some of the special wheelchairs, which can move through sand and be pushed into the water, are designed for children and others for adults. Officials are working with wheelchair users, she said, on making purchasing decisions.

The city has facilities to store the plastic wheelchairs at the Dempster Street sailing beach and Clark Street Beach. Thompson said the city is looking for ways to also house them at other beaches. She said lifeguards will need to be taught how to work with users of the special wheelchairs.

Evanston Parks and Recreation Director Audrey Thompson. Credit: Richard Cahan

One board member, John Bryan, questioned whether the city should offer wheelchairs at all the beaches. “Can we start with one beach that is completely compliant?” he asked.

“I know it sounds like a lot until you’re the one with a disability,” said Thompson. “We have people who can’t access the water because they have a disability. I have one lady who said, ‘I have upper body strength enough to be able to get in the water and swim, but I can’t get to the water.’”

 “This is light-years beyond what we have,” said Robert Bush, President of the board.

Richard Cahan

Richard Cahan takes photos for the Evanston RoundTable. He also is publisher of CityFiles Press, a small but mighty media company that believes in the power of words and pictures. You can reach him at...

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