Photo Credit: Cathy Thicke

Making Life a Beach for Everyone

Tofino's new free beach wheelchairs are helping everyone enjoy the last days of summer

“I thought my days of walking on the beach were done.”

Walks along a sunset beach may be a simple pleasure many of us take for granted.

But Donna Seedorf-Harmuth definitely doesn’t.

She was diagnosed with multiple system atrophy (MSA) in 2019, and thought she’d strolled through the sand for the last time.

In Tofino, she found out she was wrong. The town recently got two beach wheelchairs that are now available for free to the public!

By using one, Donna gained a freedom she never thought she’d have again.

“To be able to walk not only with me, but with friends along the beach was an amazing experience for her and really very up-lifting,” her husband Phil told Westerly News. “When you think that something is done and it’s the last time that you are ever going to do that, and then to be able to do it again… It’s a very powerful experience. It was a game changer.”

The chairs are built to be rolled through even the softest sand. That allows users to venture where a normal wheelchair couldn’t take them.

The best part of this story? One spunky intern is responsible for making this dream a reality.

Raiya Bernard was interning with Tourism Tofino when she realized that wheelchair users couldn’t access the beach and decided to do something about it.

“I am proud of the way it is going to benefit my community. I am passionate about identifying accessibility issues such as these and being a part of the solution,” the current nursing student told Westerly News.

Bernard applied for grant money through the Federal Youth Innovation component of the Enabling Accessibility Fund (EAF). She was able to fill an accessibility gap that will benefit Tofino locals and tourists alike.

“The West Coast should be accessible to everyone…As a community member, I saw this opportunity as a way to give back to the town I love and am so thankful for,” she said.

The new chairs go along with other outdoor activities in the area that folks in wheelchairs can access. The Botanical Gardens have wheelchair-accessible trails through the forest. And many whale watching and kayaking tours have equipment that can get wheelchair users out on the open ocean.

Accessibility is often something we don’t think about until we have to. Next time you see a gap, try to fill it.

You might just help make someone’s life a beach.