Adaptive Equipment for Wilderness Expeditions

By Erickson, Beth; Buswell, Deborah et al. | Palaestra, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Adaptive Equipment for Wilderness Expeditions


Erickson, Beth, Buswell, Deborah, Passo, Mike, Palaestra


While outdoor recreation activities and adventure sports are on the increase in American society, it is more important than ever that all individuals have knowledge of how they may access their surrounding natural areas. Recent literature has discussed how to make natural areas such as state and national parks accessible and in compliance with the American with Disabilities Act (Lais & Passo, 2000; Sheldon, 1997). Many articles have described programs designed specifically for individuals with disabilities to gain access to the outdoors (Belson, 2001; Blyth, 1999; McAvoy & Estes, 2001; McAvoy & Lais, 2003). First person narrative reports have been published, such as Amanda Boxtel's expedition to Antarctica (2002) or the chronicle of Angela Madsen and Scott Brown's Catalina Crossing, a "32-mile rowing event from Marina Del Ray, California, to Catalina Island" (Madsen, 2003, p. 18). However, limited information has been provided relative to equipment individuals with disabilities may use to access the outdoors. The majority of the literature does not describe the tools necessary, but serves more as a narrative on programs and personal experiences. In this article, the authors describe equipment used by one organization, Wilderness Inquiry, that helps people with disabilities access wilderness settings.

Wilderness Inquiry (WI) is an organization structured to take individuals with all abilities into natural settings. For twenty-five years, the organization has designed a variety of inclusive outdoor programs and served over 150,000 people with and without disabilities. WI focuses on social integration through the outdoor experience to create an overall better integrated community. Participants can travel to varied areas of the world on a WI trip, including excursions such as 26-day canoe trip down the Porcupine River in Alaska, a three-day family vacation down the St. Croix River in Minnesota, a five-day trip paddling down the Allagash Waterway in Maine, or a two week safari adventure in South Africa.

Because of longevity of the organization, the directors and staff have had numerous opportunities to design new equipment appropriate for various disabilities and keep up-to-date on readily-available equipment and tools that may need little or no adaptations. While bulky gear designed for people with disabilities may sometimes be necessary, it can also make the user feel stigmatized. A stigma can be defined as "a label or category assigned by others to indicate an undesirable deviation from the standard or norm" (Sherrill, 1998, p. 21). Equipment that is special or different from what others on a trip may be using can cause the individual to feel isolated and apart from others in the group. Because equipment may take up more room or be bulkier or heavier than standard equipment, individuals may feel as if they are overburdening the leaders and other members of the group, even if they are family and friends. They may be called upon to assist in transporting or setting up the equipment in addition to their own responsibilities. A major goal of WI is to use equipment that is utilized by the mainstream camper as much as possible. Through years of experience the staff realizes that with a bit of ingenuity, most individuals can perform a majority of tasks with camping equipment found in most outdoor stores. The following sections discuss some of the tools Wilderness Inquiry and others use to make integrated programs successful, and how individuals may obtain these tools for their own personal use.

Adaptive Seats

Sling Seat

The sling seat is designed for people who are unable to sit upright in a standard canoe seat and/or safely sit in the bottom of the craft. It provides back support and lateral stability for the torso, shoulder, and head for individuals with cerebral palsy, paraplegia, and quadriplegia, as well as others who need a more supportive seating device. Along with greater stabilily, sling seats also can help protect the individual from abrasions and pressure sores. …

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