Just because someone has a physical disability does not mean he or she can’t learn how to dive.
Among the myriad exhibitors at this year’s Blue Wild Ocean Adventure Expo in Fort Lauderdale, Florida were organizations that cater to disabled divers.
The DiveHeart Foundation provides scuba diving opportunities for kids, adults and veterans with disabilities. A full-fledged training agency, Diveheart has its own manuals for disabled divers who have taken a dive course through a regular training agency like PADI or NAUI and then come to Diveheart for further education, according to Florida team volunteer Wilhelmina Stanton.
“We just had an event in Palm Beach Gardens,” Stanton said while showing a photo of a group of disabled divers. “These guys are from a place called Pathways To Independence. Most of them are . . . quadriplegics; these guys get $1100 a month from the government. $1000 of that goes into the group home that they live in, so they have $100 a month to buy all their clothes, do all their transportation, anything fun that they want to do, so without people like us training and giving them stuff, they wouldn’t have a lot of fun time. So they come in, and we host the whole discover scuba for free, all they have to do is show up. I bring everything, all the volunteers, we pay for the pool and everything.”
Stanton said a fundraiser is scheduled for next month at the house of a friend of hers.
“We have a big fundraiser coming up called Party with the Pack. It’s April 4th, so this is a friend of mine’s parents who are hosting a big fundraiser for us. That benefits four organizations: Us [Diveheart], Pathways to Independence, Achilles International which is an adaptive sports team, and the Pawsitive Action Foundation which trains service dogs for people with disabilities who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford them.”
Another organization that had a booth at Blue Wild this year is Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba (SUDS). According to the group’s mission statement:
“Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba (SUDS) is designed to help improve the lives of injured service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. By training the warriors in a challenging and rewarding activity it can help facilitate the rehabilitation process and promote mobility. Offering this venue provides the service member with a sport they can enjoy during their rehabilitation and throughout their life.”
A volunteer manning the SUDS booth had this to say:
“These guys, even though they’re missing arms and legs, they’re still considered active-duty until they go through the medical process and everything, so this is part of their physical therapy. It opens up a whole world for them; they don’t know what the rest of their life is going to be like, kind of doubting themselves a little bit maybe, and [SUDS] opens up a new world for them and if they stick with scuba, awesome, but more importantly it opens their eyes a little.”
Even certification agencies that cater to non-disabled divers are broadening their horizons.
Canadian Kirk Krack, founder of Performance Freediving, is currently in Ottawa working with Hubert Chretien, the son of a former Canadian prime minister and a very active participant with handicapped scuba groups in that country.
“He’s been with them for a number of years as an instructor-trainer, and so I’m heading there for three days,” Krack told DeeperBlue.com last month at Blue Wild. “I’m going through an instructor program with them and then for another three days we have six of his clients and we’re taking them through our intermediate pool . . . work so they’ll go through all the classwork, all the pool sessions for a full intermediate program, we just don’t have them going to open water.
“Basically the program I’m going through is, you learn about the disabilities, the different levels, where the spine is impeded, how that affects da-da-da; You learn the standards within the association so there’s people that you know you could just be a buddy and go dive with them, there’s some people who have to dive with a supervisor . . . and there’s some people that require three people to dive with them, because they can’t even pinch their noses to equalize. So depending on your level of disability, it could be just have a normal buddy or it could be you’re basically a passenger along for the ride, and all you do is breathe. And so we’re trying to figure out how we would integrate that and how we would train our instructors to do that sort of thing.
“The idea is, everyone should have an opportunity to play in freediving at some level of capacity,” Krack said. “And so the idea is that I’m going to become an instructor in that, we’re going to start introducing a level of programming within Performance Freediving for people with disabilities and into the near future then we’ll offer our instructors an instructor program so that they can then do that sort of thing.”
Krack said his company also is developing a program for the deaf or hearing-impaired.
“We’ve trained a number of people like that,” he said, adding that PFI Instructor “Erin Magee, she used to do sign, and she actually taught a guy during one of our courses through sign, and it’s just our way of doing community outreach and spreading the gospel of freediving to whoever can do it. Sometimes we just need to give them the tools to be able to learn.”