(NewsUSA) – One of the ongoing challenges for parents with disabilities who also have children with disabilities is finding recreational activities that the whole family can enjoy together.
As the father of a blind daughter, Jim Elliott, the founder and president of Diveheart, a non-profit organization, discovered blind skiing in the 1980s. He saw how it helped build confidence, independence, and self-esteem in children and adults who were visually impaired.
With properly trained ski guides accompanying the blind skiers, families can ski together, even if parents, caregivers, or other family members are wheelchair users or have other limitations and employ a bucket ski to get down the hill. The positive impact of blind skiing so inspired Elliott that in 2001 he founded Diveheart, based in Downers Grove, Illinois, to serve individuals with physical and cognitive disabilities through adaptive scuba and scuba therapy.
As a young journalist, Elliott took scuba diving lessons in case he had to interview a diver such as Jacques Cousteau. He fell in love with scuba and immediately recognized the therapeutic value of diving and its ability to equal the playing field for everyone participating. For example, a parent in a wheelchair can hover underwater, neutrally buoyant alongside their child with autism, cerebral palsy, or Down’s syndrome. A family member who is blind, has an amputation, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, or post-traumatic stress disorder can be equal to anyone under the water.
With a little adaptation, zero gravity can be a tool that turns the pool or the ocean into inner space and the individual from a terrestrial to an aquanaut. This transformation is a powerful tool that can create a paradigm shift in an individual with a disability. They are no longer that person in the wheelchair; they are scuba divers, and they can self-identify as a diver instead of someone with a disability.
“Not only is scuba a great equalizer, but it can also be mastered quickly,” says Elliott.” It can take me at least two or more days to get a blind skier ready to go down a green run efficiently. But in thirty minutes I can get someone who has never been in the water out of their wheelchair and neutrally buoyant, standing up underwater.” He adds, “It’s like magic. Once they realize they are free, they begin to imagine the possibilities in their lives.”
For more information about the therapeutic value of scuba diving, visit diveheart.org.