A row of wheelchairs floats on the water in a beach in the northern Moroccan city of Tangier, awaiting the arrival of disabled visitors wishing to swim in the sea.
Alongside the chairs, a team of volunteers is waiting to drive wheelchairs on a ramp designed to help people with disabilities move in and out of water.
These equipment and volunteers on the Dalia beach are part of an initiative aimed at supporting people with special needs who want to swim.
Once in the water, the wheelchair floats, and the volunteers surround swimmers to maintain their safety.
This summer, up to 580 visitors with special needs swam in the waters of Dalia beach, giving them the opportunity to swim freely in a controlled environment, with some swimming for the first time in their lives.
A woman, Rahimo, happily waved to her daughter with Down syndrome swimming in the sea.
“We used to see disabled people marginalized. They weren’t able to enjoy like now. They had many obstacles, didn’t have full freedom to enjoy the beach like others, and couldn’t swim like everyone else. They have the will, and now there is a big difference,” she told Reuters.
“Frankly, I like the Dalia beach, because it is the first in Morocco to bring swimming facilities,” said Bilal al-Ashhab, a visitor with special needs. “In Dalia Beach, you swim like ordinary people, there is no difference. I thank the young volunteers and hope to see the initiative spread on all shores across the Kingdom.”
Services and assistance for people with disabilities on the beach are free of charge.
Najwa al-Musallam, a volunteer who helps these people, said: “Seeing them happy after swimming for the first time is our biggest reward.”
The initiative was founded by Mohamed el-Hisho al-Mertah, president of the Sahel Association for Development and Culture in 2015, who noticed that people with special needs do not feel comfortable while on the beach.
“From 2015 until now, we were observing a group of families bringing their disabled members. We clearly saw that they were uncomfortable on the beach, and felt deprived. So, we launched a small initiative and helped them with modest capacities,” al-Hisho said.