Having a motorized wheelchair gives people with physical disabilities the chance to go places that they otherwise might not go and do things they might not otherwise do. Mobility is freedom, the freedom to try new experiences.
One experience that not too many people, whether they are differently-abled or without disabilities, get to experience is riding in a hot air balloon. But there is a special hot-air balloon that makes it possible for people in wheelchairs to experience floating above the ground.
The nation’s first wheelchair-accessible balloon, called Serena’s Song, has been giving people with disabilities the chance to experience flight for more than 20 years, the Daily Herald reported.
The owner, Gary Waldman, and pilot, Phil Gray, tour the country giving people with disabilities the opportunity to fly. Serena’s Song was scheduled to be at the Lisle’s Eyes to the Skies hot air balloon festival in Illinois last weekend, but the event was cancelled because of inclement weather.
Rides in the special Serena’s Song hot air balloon are coordinated through SEASPAR, an organization that offers recreation services and events for those with disabilities.
The idea for giving the balloon rides to people with disabilities was inspired by Waldman’s daughter, Serena, who enjoyed a hot air balloon ride she took as a little girl. Serena was born with cerebral palsy in 1984.
The balloon has a more spacious basket with bolts to hold down wheelchairs. The door folds down to create a ramp to make it easier to get in and out of the basket.
“The freedom of flight is just something that everybody should experience,” said Matt Corso, the executive director of SEASPAR. “And what’s cool about the balloon versus being in a plane is that it’s open air. It’s a very different experience than being on a plane.”
There is no fee for the balloon rides, which take about 15 minutes.