Wheelchair snorkelling program helping people with disabilities get ba – Ausnew Home Care

Wheelchair snorkelling program helping people with disabilities get back in the water

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Marine biologist Yvette Eglinton did not swim for more than a decade.

She used to dive, sail and compete in triathlons before a cycling accident "dramatically changed" her life.

"I came off my bike and ended up with a spinal cord injury. I went from being able to do it all to then having to be computer-based," she said.

Ms Eglinton — who specialises in the study of algae — now uses a wheelchair, which she said was a barrier to physical activities such as swimming.

But she has returned to the water thanks to a snorkelling program for people who use wheelchairs.

For people with a disability or impaired mobility, simply travelling across the sand is a challenge.

At the edge of West Lakes in Adelaide's west, Ms Eglinton was helped into a wetsuit, specially modified with extra zips, for easy access.

Next, she swapped her wheelchair for a submersible Mobi-Chair.

Marine biologist Yvette Eglinton in a submersible wheelchair.
Yvette Eglinton in a submersible wheelchair and wetsuit before entering the water.(

ABC News: Ben Nielsen


The state-of-the-art device allowed her to roll across the shore, into the waves, float through the water and snorkel.

"I loved being able to look and breathe under water again," she said.

"For people to be able to access the marine environment and participate in snorkelling events kind of helps to break down those boundaries and barriers."

Expansion plan for floating wheelchair program

Marine tour operator Carl Charter said the event took months to plan, and would not have been possible without a $46,000 South Australia Government grant and the help of about 10 volunteers.

"It's expensive because of the equipment and we also need a lot of people to help on site," he said.

"We get a lot of people request to come [to our events] … we haven't until now had the right training for the volunteers to work with those groups."

Yvette Eglinton swims at West Lakes with the help of a submersible wheelchair.
Yvette Eglinton swims at West Lakes with the help of volunteers.(

ABC News: Ben Nielsen


Other accessibility initiatives — like disability access mats — have been rolled out at South Australian beaches, but Mr Charter said he believed this was the first time floating wheelchairs would be available long-term.

The event was inspired by his own experiences with people with disabilities.

"We've got a couple of people in our family on the autism spectrum and it's always been at the back of my mind," he said.

"It's important to make sure our marine parks and coasts are accessible to everyone."

Planned roll-out on SA beaches

The Mobi-Chair, and a range of other equipment, had to be imported but the wetsuits worn by participants were modified by Adelaide company Oi Wetsuit Repairs.

"Getting into a wetsuit is a task in itself," said owner Ken Brain.

"For those who are disabled or with a disability getting into a wetsuit they're also obviously going to need carers and helpers to help them get into them."

Wetsuit maker Ken Brain at work.
Ken Brain has designed special suits for the program.(

ABC News: Sarah Mullins


The wetsuits also provided warmth to participants with spinal cord injuries, who cannot regulate their own body temperature.

Mr Brain said his experiences recovering from a motorcycle accident compelled him to contribute to the event.

"We're only just tapping into the disability market or sector," he said.

Yvette Eglinton at West Lakes in a wheelchair with volunteers.
Ms Eglinton surrounded by volunteers in wet suits at West Lakes.(

ABC News: Ben Nielsen


Mr Charter said he was already scoping out locations for future events, including Port Noarlunga and Second Valley — and Ms Eglinton is already on board.

"I'd love to be able to get back in and look at some reefs," she said.

"To look at some algae on the reef again would be great."

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