By Camas Frank~
When former U.S. Senator Tom Harkin taught delegates at the Democratic National Convention the sign language word for America last month, he did it as a nod to the 26th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
It also reminded a lot of people just how many of their friends and family members need a little assistance from time to time.
More than a generation since public facilities, businesses that serve the public, and the built environment have been modified to make reasonable accommodation for people in wheelchairs – and with other needs – there are still vast swaths of experience closed off to them.
Jim Maples, a local retired coach and teacher, certainly thought about the difficulties faced by one particular loved one after moving to Grover Beach in 2015. Michelle Maples, his wife, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1994.
The disease attacks patients’ nerves, causing pain and immobility. By the time they moved to the Central Coast – a beautiful vacation destination – to enjoy the weather and atmosphere, as well as to protect Michelle’s health from the punishing Bakersfield heat, she was, said Jim, “more of a beach spectator with the kids. She couldn’t do much in the sand but sit to the side and watch or wave.”
That’s about when Jim saw a CNN human-interest story about a Veteran, a “wounded warrior,” living in Florida who had started a company to restore mobility, if not activity, to vets and anyone else who needed some on the beaches of the ‘Sunshine State.’
“He was renting out these incredible rugged power-chairs and I just said, ‘That’s what Michelle needs!”, said Jim, of course, he added, “We couldn’t find one anywhere in California.”
With a lot more research, a business plan good enough to secure a loan from local Founders Community Bank in SLO and a starting roster of four power chairs, that’s how Michelle became the inspiration for California Coast Beach Power Chair.
The chairs take between four to six weeks to produce, so it took some time to set up a rental business in the Pismo Beach service area.
Custom made by Beach Power Mobility, they feature a heavy aluminum frame, padded adjustable seats, joystick controls, fold up armrests, adjustable footrests, and an optional beach umbrella.
“We have the advantage of all year tourism here, so it really is the perfect fit between a product and business,” said Jim, “to give people back independence and freedom on the beach or around town while they visit.”
“It’s helping people when they need it with their families, but it’s also makes our County accessible [for people with disabilities],” he added.
They’re now working with Beach Butlers, a local company that sets up weddings and other beach events, to have the chairs available for family functions as well as featuring the mini-vehicles at the Pismo Beach Classic Car Show and Fourth of July Fireworks at the Pier. One unit is available through Pismo Coast rentals.
For the majority of other calls though, Jim delivers the chairs locally, which have an eight -hour battery life before recharge, for a pick-up delivery fee and $80 per day of use.
“It’s been really great showing people what it can do. Whenever we go to an event people crowd around it,” said Jim. “It’s ‘Oh, cool. I never thought of that before,’ and they always have someone in mind who could use it.”
For more information check out their website: www.rentbeachpowerchair.com.