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Photos: This solar powered wheelchair gives the disabled a chance to swim in the ocean

Reuters/Yorgos Karahalis
The chair provides newfound freedom for many, but local governments are less than supportive.
greecePublished This article is more than 2 years old.

A solar-powered chair is allowing the wheelchair-bound a chance to swim, unaided, in the Greek sea. But without additional government assistance to promote the device’s upkeep and accessibility, it has suffered from vandalism and proven difficult for wheelchair-goers to get to.

Created in 2008, the Seatrac can operate up to 30 times a day on solar power alone, moving a chair up and down a fixed track into the water. “It was unreal,” Lefteris Theofilou, paralyzed from the waist down, told Reuters of his first time in the device. “It makes you feel free and able to do things you could not imagine you could do on your own.”

Reuters/Yorgos Karahalis
Theofilou in the Seatrac, which allows him to swim without assistance
Reuters/Yorgos Karahalis
Once submerged, many are able to leave the chair

Because the country is nearly always sunny, the device can be installed without an electric line. This makes it easily removable at the end of the beach-going season.

Local governments pay $40,000 for each device, and are responsible for its upkeep after the first year.

But even though demand for the device is growing in other countries, it’s struggling to find support in Greece. In the town of Alepochori, solar panels are often stolen or vandalized, and teenagers are known to use the chair as a diving board. “These guys have created an incredible thing and we stumble across problems from the state,” Theofilou said. “This is Third World sloppiness.”

Reuters/Yorgos Karahalis
Minas Georgakis, husband of the pictured Matoula Kastrioti, built a walkway to make wheelchair access to the chair easier. But, he says, it’s often blocked by trash and parked motorcycles.
Theofilou with his wife, Eleni, who suffers from cerebral palsy. “We have thousands of beaches,” he said, “the most beautiful in the world, and to still not be able to swim in them?”

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