People in floating wheelchairs after they were launched at Al Mamzar Beach Park on Tuesday. The special wheelchairs are also equipped with seat belts, handgrips and a footrest. Image Credit: Atiq-Ur-Rehman/Gulf News

Dubai: The elderly and people with special needs can now enjoy their time in the sea in floating wheelchairs.

The free “swimming wheelchair” service was launched in Dubai on Tuesday as a community initiative of Dubai Municipality.

More than a dozen residents with special needs and the elderly took to the shallow waters — some for the first time in their life — off Al Mamzar Park in Dubai.

The chair is essentially like a deckchair fitted on a tricycle of sorts that stays afloat and stable due to its design and the materials used. It has seat belts, handgrips, and a footrest to make the experience more secure and comfortable.

Meanwhile, the yellow wheels and orange armrests double up as floaters.

People can be assisted into the chairs at the path leading up to the beach. The chair can be rolled out to the shore on a specially designed mat.

Tuesday’s launch involved participation from the Dubai Sports Council and the Community Centre for the Elderly in Dubai, in the presence of senior municipality officials and lifeguards.

“I’ve never enjoyed the sea like this before, it was lovely,” said Emirati participant Mohammad Khamis, 45.

“I felt comfortable and safe. The lifeguards and staff were so attentive; I didn’t need to make any effort. You just sit back and enjoy.”

As an initial offering, 15 chairs were made available on Al Mamzar Park’s beach and Jumeirah Beach. Officials said they plan to roll out more chairs in the future.

Following the launch, Hussain Nasser Lootah, director-general of the municipality, said: “The move comes as part of the civic body’s keenness to achieve the strategic goal of Dubai Government to be one of the most friendly cities in the world for people with special needs by 2020 through the initiative ‘My Community: A City for Everyone’, launched by Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Executive Council.”

He added: “Dubai is the first Arab city that provides this facility for people with special needs. We selected these chairs after a market study about the product and the best practices in the world. The chairs cost around Dh9,000 each and are imported from France.

“We hope these chairs will make our brothers and sisters with special needs and elderly people more comfortable while swimming in the designated areas of the beach. They can use chairs without the help of others and the services are totally free of charge.”

Lootah said a dedicated team of lifeguards and trainers will be on hand for safety and guidance.

Taleb Julfar, director of the Parks and Horticulture Department at the municipality, said there will be a booking system for the chairs, adding most people are expected to come in the early morning, followed by late evenings as it is relatively cooler in those hours.

“We want them to feel relaxed and enjoy themselves; it’s also good for getting some vitamin D. A booking system will mean people won’t have to wait long for their turn,” Julfar added. The booking service will be announced soon.