On a fine winter day on the Carpinteria State Beach boardwalk, 69-year-old Joanne Polacco takes in the sun and fresh sea air from her motorized wheelchair. It’s enough, she says, “just being able to smell the air and being out, listening to the water—it’s peaceful.”
Regina Diaz is with her, and has helped Polacco navigate the bus ride from the assisted living residence where she lives in Santa Barbara down to Carpinteria for the afternoon. They’ve had lunch at Fosters Freeze on Carpinteria Avenue and are now meeting with two State Parks representatives and a reporter from the Coastal View News to talk about accessibility and how the boardwalk allows Polacco to experience the dune and seashore environments.
But she’s here mainly for the air, for the open space. It can get loud back at the residence. “Give me some space,” Polacco says. She’s lived with cerebral palsy her whole life, and a spine injury in 2012 made her body go numb, and required surgery and the move to the assisted living facility. Polacco says her sister told her “it’s a good thing you’re alive, you showed us you’re alive.”
From her chair, watching the sunlight sparkle on a calm weekday afternoon, Polacco is most definitely alive—talking excitedly about the painting classes she takes, the book she’s written and looking forward to moving back into her own place soon. “It’s a new beginning for me,” she says.
Dave Wilson, Supervising Ranger for Carpinteria and Ventura state beaches, stands near Polacco with his wife Kate Wilson a recreation specialist with State Parks. He explains that Carpinteria State Beach has three beach-accessible wheelchairs that visitors can use free of charge. “I wish they got more use,” he admits, and Kate adds, “most State Beaches have beach wheelchairs available.”
Regina Diaz, the woman who helps Polacco, says that they enjoy their outings together, and that they’ll spend the whole day doing errands and visiting places. Moving forward, Polacco says, she hopes to be “getting more friends and keeping my old ones!” Heading back down the boardwalk towards Linden Avenue, Polacco takes another look at the ocean. “Look at that sunlight on the water—the sun is shining.”