ELKHART — “I can do it,” Johnny Riblet yelled as he was slowly dipped into the cool waters of the Pierre Moran pool Thursday amidst applause.
Moving into a pool normally isn’t reason for applause, but Riblet, a 15-year-old participant in the ADEC summer day camp program, was chosen to try out a new power lift chair that assists people into the pool who could not otherwise do so on their own.
“Thank you,” Riblet shouted after moving from the lift chair and into the arms of an ADEC worker, Kim Williams.
The lift and other equipment were acquired by the Elkhart Parks and Recreation Department with $20,500 from the Elkhart County Community Foundation for the project.
Other equipment includes an aquatic mobile chair, floatation devices designed for the disabled and equipment that will make a changing room at the pool compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Another youth tried out the aquatic mobile chair and squealed with delight as he moved from the zero depth area of another pool and glided gently into a slightly deeper area where water sprays upward in the shape of a mushroom.
The children’s reaction was gratifying for Elkhart Parks Superintendent Karin Frey, who said she believes the chair will be especially valuable for people who have never been able to use a pool.
The new equipment is a major step that will open the door for more people to use the pool, Frey said.
The pool has an older lift chair, but the new one is more powerful and meets new ADA standards because it can accommodate bigger people.
The new stairs have handles on both sides and is wider for plus-sized folks.
The equipment was acquired last year, but the lift had to be installed permanently into the pool deck, Frey said.
Thursday’s ceremony included a ribbon-cutting and speeches from Mayor Dick Moore and others, including Donna Belusar, the president and CEO of ADEC.
Belusar said she was deeply humbled by the new equipment because as a child she could relate to the difficulties of getting in and out of a pool.
Belusar suffered from a severe disability that required wearing a full body brace except for times she was in a pool.
The new equipment, she said, “gives you the confidence that you’re able to participate in something like this without the fear that you’re different.”
“Stairs take away the fear,” she added.
Moore thanked the park board and foundation for their efforts and added, “The city of Elkhart will continue its efforts to make it better for those who are handicapped to navigate through our city and enjoy the things that all of us are able to enjoy.”
City council member Brian Thomas also expressed his appreciation.
“Any time we can add a quality of life asset to a quality of life asset, it’s a win-win situation for everybody,” Thomas said.