Tom Faulkner went right down the sandy beach at Raven Haven and into the water without any problem. Not bad for a guy who’s been in a wheelchair since he was a teenager more than 50 years ago.
It’s all thanks to Annapolis County Recreation’s new Mobi-Mat and Mobi-Chair unveiled July 26 at the municipal day park and campground on Sandy Bottom Lake.
“We started to see these Mobi-Mats in Inverness County being featured, and then Antigonish County and Annapolis County said if there’s anything that we can do to encourage more people to have access to our parks we should be doing that,” said county recreation director Debra Ryan. “So council was very agreeable to looking into adaptive equipment for that, and Raven Haven is such a perfect location for it.”
Ryan said the mat and the floating chair will expand opportunities for people.
“We are both very impressed with the Mobi-Mat,” said Susan Barker, Faulkner's wife. She researched the Mobi equipment before the July 26 unveiling, and Faulkner was the first person to try it.
“It offers the opportunity to be right at the water's edge, even in your own chair.”
Faulkner did take his own motorized wheelchair down to the water’s edge, but it was the Mobi-Chair that was the hit of the day. With the help of his wife and Annapolis County Councillor Michael Gunn, he swapped out chairs, and a barefoot Gunn took him down to the water’s edge on the Mobi-Mat and backed him into the warm water.”
Faulkner said it had been about 20 years since he’d been in a beach situation where he could actually get in the water. And even then he had two or three people helping him. With the Mobi-Mat and the Mobi-Chair, it was easy.
“Those things let us take part in activities together, that have been impossible before,” his wife said. “Frankly, I miss out on a number of activities because I want to do them with Tom - or not at all.”
Ryan explains exactly what these new pieces of gear are.
“A Mobi-Mat is a synthetic material that’s five feet wide and I think we have 100 feet of it here at Raven Haven,” she said, “and basically it lays on top of the sand and it provides very good, sturdy security for people to walk on the actual beach itself. You can’t sink into the sand. Whether you have a walker, you just don’t have the balance you once did, or you’re in a wheelchair, this is really quite perfect for getting people back into the water and enjoying more recreational activities.”
She said the floating Mobi-Chair gives people a chance, who have mobility issues of any type, to actually swim along with their family or their friends.
“They’re actually in a floating chair,” she said. “Today is the first day we’re putting it in the water, and we are going to have people who are in wheelchairs give it a try.”
Faulkner was the first to use it. The Annapolis Royal couple had heard the equipment would be unveiled and wanted to check it out. Barker did some research so when they arrived she knew exactly what to do.
“This has opened the door for a lot of people to be able to come out – with the addition of the mat,” said Faulkner. “This will allow them to get to the water, which up until now was impossible because sand is not your friend in a wheelchair. And if you have crutches or cane or other mobility issues, the same thing applies. With the mat and the vehicle to be further assistance, it opens the door for a lot of different people that you might not think of.”
Faulkner was paralyzed in a diving accident when he was a teenager. He’s watched the world move towards accessibility for decades.
“I applaud the county for taking the initiative and seeing that this is happening,” he said, adding that for him, personally, it’s significant. “But even more so for certain younger people, for people who crave the outdoors. People who have forgotten what it’s like because they probably feel they’re no longer eligible to have such fun, and that’s just not true.”
Landon Ritchie from Yarmouth was visiting family in the area when he heard about the Mobi equipment. He was in a motorcycle accident and his left leg is held together with metal, pins, and screws. He’s been in a wheelchair for months. He’s expected to recover, but his leg can’t take any weight.
The Mobi-Chair was a chance for a bit of fun and freedom from crutches - and that wheelchair he practically lives in.
Gunn helped Ritchie into the water, attaching a tether to the Mobi-Chair to allow him to float out farther.
Back on dry land, Ritchie said the Mobi-Chair was comfortable and something that’s really needed.
Later he tried the other piece of new equipment – the Hippocampe, a wheelchair meant for hiking trails – sort of a cross between a dog sled and a wheelchair. Ryan pushed him around for a few minutes, showing him how a person in a wheelchair could now access a hiking trail. The chair comes with skis, so it can be used all year.
All told, the equipment cost about $18,000 with Nova Scotia Community, Culture and Heritage chipping in $10,000 through its accessibility fund. Active Kids, Healthy Kids added another $2,000, and the county paid the rest.
Raven Haven Beachside Family Park is in its 25th season and has a day-use park and beach with canoes and kayaks available – plus it offers overnight camping. If you want to use the Mobi-Chair, call ahead at 902-532-7320.