Sunday, July 16, 2006

Tandem Bike Program for the visually impaired

For Lygia Bohan, of Sunrise, who lost her eyesight at birth, bicycle riding is an outlet that helps her escape from the daily stresses of job and family."Riding through the park, you can see the cars go by, the birds flying or an airplane go by," she said. "I can sort of sense these things, I can hear the cars go by and I can smell the barbecue at a park."

Though blind, Bohan is able to enjoy bicycling through a Broward County Parks and Recreation program that teams blind riders with volunteers who can see.Started in 1997, the program uses two-seated bicycles called tandems. Volunteers, known as captains, sit on the front seat and steer. Visually impaired riders sit on the back seat.

As the program starts a new season, coordinators are looking for volunteers older than 16 to serve as captains. Volunteers must have good eyesight and know the basics of bicycle riding. The park offers the bikes but helpers can bring their own tandem bikes if they have them. Tandem teams need "someone who can see to drive," said Elly Du Pre, the executive director of Lighthouse of Broward County, an agency that helps the visually impaired.

Lighthouse teaches blind and visually handicapped people the skills they need to live independent lives."There are many people who have benefited from the program," said Rachel Bash, special projects coordinator for the Parks and Recreation Division. New volunteers and riders go through a five- to six-week orientation session and plan future biking sessions.Judy Wolgang, of Margate, has been with the program since it started.

She suffers from glaucoma, but has been tandem riding for eight years. "When I got on the tandem, I felt like I could fly," Wolgang said. "It feels freeing doing something that I thought only a sighted person could do."Sanford Rosenthal, of Fort Lauderdale, has tandem biked for about eight years. "This program evens the playing field," he said. Rosenthal, who is visually impaired, also participates in aided rock climbing and kayaking.


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