Imagine living on a beautiful island with lovely beaches, but never being able to enter the water — or even sit on the sand — on a hot day.
That’s been the plight of Joe Napolitano who, until this summer, couldn’t access the waters around Shelter Island because he’s a person who uses a wheelchair.
But thanks to his request to Public Works Commissioner Jay Card Jr., Mr. Napolitano is becoming a regular at Crescent Beach where he can finally get into the water.
Mr. Napolitano first saw a beach wheelchair in use in Brookhaven, prompting him to bring the idea to Mr. Card for Shelter Islande.
Mr. Card found money in his budget to purchase what he hopes will be just the first of two beach wheelchairs. He credits Supervisor Jim Dougherty and just-retired Recreation Director Garth Griffin with supporting the effort.
Severely paralyzed and dependent on family and aides, Mr. Napolitano suffers from muscular dystrophy and myasthenia gravis, illnesses that cause muscle weaknesses and fatigue and affect eyesight, mobility and even breathing, according to his wife, Renee.
The couple moved to the Island from Westchester 18 years ago and Mr. Napolitano has had to use a wheelchair for the past 14 years, Ms. Napolitano said.
What makes his life manageable and keeps his spirits up is the ability to connect with the world around him, thanks to his computer, she said.
But like practically everyone, on a warm, sunny day, he had missed being able to go to the beach and get into the water.
Ms. Napolitano also credits Shelter Island Homecare for the full-time aides who have been helping her to assist her husband.
The beach wheelchair is kept in a plastic case on Crescent Beach where a mat runs from the case down to the water.
Beach lifeguards have a key to the case and can make it available to anyone in need, Mr. Card said. It cost the town about $5,000, with an approximate $1,000 discount because it was purchased at the end of last season, Mr. Card said.
“It’s not a toy,” he said, explaining that its use has to be supervised.
He hopes to have another beach wheelchair at Wade’s Beach by next summer.