ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT (XINHUA) – Helmy Khaled, a 14-year-old amateur swimmer, can finally enjoy splashing around this summer at a beach area purposed for people with visual impairment in Egypt’s Mediterranean province of Alexandria.
“I used to swim in the sea, but it was very difficult for me because public beaches are usually crowded and not provided with special lifeguards for visually impaired or disabled people,” Khaled told Xinhua at the Mandara beach.
Last year, Alexandria inaugurated Mandara as the first disability-friendly public beach in Egypt to enable thousands of people with various disabilities, including those who use wheelchairs, to reach seawater via a ramp.
This July, the local government opened a swimming area at Mandara for visually impaired people. It was circled out by ropes in the seawater and divided into three lanes, which can hold dozens of people at a time.
Special markers are also used to help blind people safely swim in the water, with lifeguards closely watching them.
“I feel safe swimming here. Lifeguards are always around, and I also have a whistle to call them if I need help,” Khaled said as he moved freely in the lane, adding he has come to swim several times since it opened and recommended it to many friends with visual impairment.
Mandara beach supervisor Tarek Jahin told Xinhua that all services at the two dedicated swimming areas for people with disabilities are free of charge and open every day.
“We still have more plans to design and develop beaches for people with disabilities. We want them to integrate into society and enjoy life just like sound people,” he said.
“I’m very happy that the government is taking care of us. I hope the government will open more beaches for all people with disabilities across the country,” Khaled said. Abdul-Rahman Khamis, a 10-year-old visually impaired child, was having his first swim in three years, as safety is not guaranteed for people with disabilities on most public beaches.
“I’m very happy that this beach area is assigned to people with visual impairment. It made my father change his mind and bring me here to swim,” Khamis told Xinhua as he was swimming with other children, adding he will ask his father to bring him here every week.
“I love the sea and swimming. I feel so free when my body touches the water,” he added.