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SALT LAKE CITY — A physical or mental disability may seem like a big roadblock to participating in outdoor recreation, but many organizations and gear companies in Utah are seeking to make adventuring outside more accessible.
The simple truth is outdoor recreation is a lot more difficult and expensive for individuals with disabilities, as it requires special equipment and is often a lot more challenging. In the Outdoor Foundation’s 2016 Outdoor Participation Report, they identified that 16 percent of Americans who don’t participate in outdoor activities say it’s due to a physically limiting disability, while an additional 3 percent don’t because they have a family member with a disability.
They aren’t the only ones to find this kind of data. A study published in 2017 revealed the existence of a personal disability is a great constraint to outdoor recreation visitation and explored the reasons why. With 61 million adults in the United States living with disabilities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s necessary to accommodate their needs in outdoor recreation.
Adaptive recreation is an outdoor adventure movement which makes activities and equipment items more accessible to individuals with disabilities through modified equipment. The National Ability Center, among other Utah organizations, has a full adaptive recreation program with equipment available for use and rental.
There are a vast array of adapted sports available with a host of equipment options to make them more doable. Recreators can experience anything from canoeing to hockey to surfing. Read more about adaptive sports here.
Just as there are numerous adaptive sports, there’s plenty of adaptive equipment as well. Most can be purchased directly or rented out from local adaptive recreation activists like the National Ability Center, Common Ground Outdoor Adventures and Wasatch Adaptive Sports. Here are some examples of adaptive recreation equipment:
- Monoski: A bucket chair atop a single ski which has been centralized for balance, the monoski is made for people with vertebrae injuries, lower body amputations and spina bifida. Steering is handled by using shortened ski poles, necessitating great upper body strength.
- Biski: A lot like monoskiing, the biski is a bucket chair over two skis. It’s designed for people with intact lower legs but minimal control over them, like individuals with muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, brain injuries or cerebral palsy. Like monoskiing, it requires manipulation of shortened poles and a good deal of upper body strength.
- Outriggers: Modified ski poles for users of monoskis and biskis.
- Sled hockey sled: Sled hockey was invented for disabled individuals who still want to play hockey. The players ride in specially designed sleds atop two hockey blades, and they play with two sticks each with metal picks on the end to propel themselves with.
- Fat bikes/Mountain Bikes: There are numerous kinds of mountain bikes and fat bikes geared towards handicapped individuals, including handcycles and modified bikes.
A standard wheelchair is great for getting around a city, but trying to navigate a rocky campsite can be a burden. Here are some options to make it more doable:
- FreeWheel Wheelchair Attachment: Don’t worry about buying an all-terrain wheelchair, just attach the “FreeWheel,” which clamps onto manual wheelchairs to help them navigate uneven terrain at campsites.
- GRIT Freedom Chair: A great chair for weekend warriors to get off the sidewalk and easily navigate through rocks, grass, dirt and more.
- Rugged tires: Most wheelchair brands have rugged tires which can be purchased and attached to wheelchairs for camping expeditions.
People who need to use a wheelchair should carefully consider a tent’s entryway before purchasing it. Preferences may vary, but according to the Wirecutter, an individual may wish to fully wheel their chair into the tent, transfer in from outside or park the chair halfway between.
Family-style and glamping tents tend to be best in terms of accommodating a wheelchair, but they can be very cumbersome and difficult to set up. Small tents are advantageous in that most wheelchair users can set them up, but actually getting in and out of the tent is a lot more challenging. In the end, it’s all about preference and how often the wheelchair user will be camping with other people.
- Eureka! Copper Canyon Three-Season Camping Tent: A good family tent, this option is roomy and easily fits a wheelchair in addition to a sleeping set-up.
- Crua Tri: This glamping tent facilitates moving in and out with great ease, and it accommodates a cot (which is usually easier for wheelchair users to get to than the ground).
- The OzTent: A good RV accessory and a highly wheelchair accessible canvas tent.
- Black Diamond Mega Light Tent: A floorless, single-pole tent, this is a great option for wheelchair users because it is easy to set up and there’s no lip at the entrance to worry about wheeling a chair over. Be aware this option will not be optimized for warmth or protection from the elements.
Sleeping bags and pads
Sleeping pads and sleeping bags should prioritize warmth and comfort as much as possible, based on the season. Handicapped campers might find unique difficulties coming up in terms of maintaining warmth. For example, single or double leg amputees might find that extra space in their sleeping bags makes them colder during the night. Wirecutter suggests tailoring the sleeping bag to remove some of the lower half.
Some people ditch the sleeping pad idea altogether and bring air mattresses, cots or mattress toppers. When deciding to go with a sleeping pad, consider one of these options:
- Paco Pads: Big, made of dense foam and self-inflating, paco pads are great for comfortable sleeping. They also dry off very quickly if they get wet. That said, they are more expensive and don’t pack to a small size.
- Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Ultra Sleeping Pad: These sleeping pads are lightweight and inflatable with built-in reflective heating technology to keep body heat circling all night. This option is warm and rated down to 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
Utah adaptive recreation resources
- The National Ability Center in Park City.
- Splore, which takes handicapped outdoor recreators on adventures like river rafting, climbing, camping, hiking and more.
- Accessibility at National Parks, BLM land and State Parks
- Technology Recreation Access Independence Lifestyle Sports (TRAILS), through University of Utah Health
- Wasatch Adaptive Sports
- Courage Reins Therapeutic Riding Center for assisted equine therapy.
- Common Ground Outdoor Adventures in Logan.
- About Adaptive Equipment
- About Adaptive Sports
- Visit Utah’s accessible Utah guide.