Disabled beachgoers enjoy adaptive beach days near Allison Park in North Beach

Dozens of disabled South Florida residents packed Miami Beach’s North Beach on Sunday for the first 2017 Adaptive Beach Day.

Adaptive Beach Day, hosted by the Sabrina Cohen Foundation, allows disabled South Florida residents the opportunity to swim in the ocean and enjoy a day at the beach, something they can’t do by themselves, foundation founder Sabrina Cohen said.

“The mission for the event is to provide therapeutic activities for those dealing with debilitating conditions,” Cohen said. “This event gives liberties to people who may never experience beach access before. Miami has some of the best beaches in the country, but no handicap access to them.”

Adaptive Beach Day, now in its second year, runs on the first and third Sunday of the month at 6475 Collins Ave., adjacent to Allison Park. Attendees were treated to food, drinks and board games while spending time with friends and family at the beach. Temporary mats were laid out in advance to help those with wheelchairs and power chairs move freely along the beach.

The foundation pushed to build a wellness center at Allison Park, but last year were turned down by Miami Beach because some residents complained about losing beach view and green space, Miami Beach Commissioner Joy Malakoff said.

The foundation is currently working with the city to find another location for the wellness center. The foundation is expected to finish construction of an adaptive playground in June, Cohen said.

Hialeah resident Ever Suarez, 32, a self-employed IT manager, was diagnosed with Type II Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a rare disease that affects less than 200,000 young people in the United States.

Suarez immigrated from Cuba with his mother when he was 18. He left behind his native Cienfuegos, where he loved going to beach as a kid. Suarez said Adaptive Beach Day made him feel like he was back on the island in Cienfuegos.

“I first heard of the event two years ago and I thought it was a great idea,” Suarez said. “Last year was my first time in the water in 10 years. Being back at the beach basically renewed my life.”

Suarez and other guests waited upwards of 30 minutes to find accessible parking near the event. Eventually, he parked his wheelchair-accessible Dodge Grand Caravan illegally, with special permission from beach security.

“I had to sort of make up my own spot,” Suarez said. “Miami Beach needs to create more handicap-accessible parking spots for the event. Trying to find parking was tough. I had to wait a long time.”