Adaptive Sports Equipment Enables Outdoor Recreation for All
Americas, Universal Design, March 18 2019
Stephen was 14 when he lost all use of his legs and the full mobility of his arms in a traffic accident. Three years after the crash, the Braddock youth, who asked that his last name not be used, said he sorely missed getting outside with family and friends.
“Hanging out in the park, fishing — just doing anything outdoors — it’s really hard when you can’t get around,” he said in 2018 during a fishing program organized by the state Fish and Boat Commission.
Stephen’s mom had arranged for agency staff to bring specialized gear that would enable him to do something he hadn’t done in years.
“I caught a fish,” he said. “It was so cool. I could feel it struggling in the water. For a few minutes I forgot I was in this chair.”
In the last 20 years, one of the most creative sectors of the medical equipment industry has been the development and marketing of adaptive equipment that enables people with mobility-challenging conditions to participate in outdoor recreation. Not just going outdoors — the new product lines let them go out and have fun.
“It’s just to be able to include everyone,” said Chad Foster, the Fish and Boat’s western region education and outreach coordinator. “Some people have a hard time fishing, whether it be a military veteran wounded in combat or someone disabled in another way. [Using adaptive gear] is a good way to get people out and enjoying fishing.”
The commission’s adaptive loaner gear is free to use on request, and is more available near urban centers where the population and demand are higher. The state agency purchased a supply of fishing rods with automatic reels designed for people who have some movement in their arms.
“As soon as it senses a hit it starts reeling,” said Mr. Foster. “There’s a drag in there as well,” enabling the fish to pull the line the other way so it doesn’t break. “We’ve had a lot of interest in those.”
The website AdaptiveOutdoorsman.com, lists an array of products that could help just about anyone go hunting or fishing. The company sells wheelchair-mounted firearm supports, a trigger-pulling hook that straps to the hand, left- and right-handed fishing rod holders … even a one-handed knot-tyer that probably would be a great tool for any angler.
Some people with physical challenges who aren’t beckoned by hunting or fishing, might prefer riding a bicycle. If pedaling seems difficult to impossible, a tandem bike-and-wheelchair product distributed by an Oakdale company is helping people in the Pittsburgh area to get back on the road.
Mobility and Access Inc., formerly Frank Mobility Systems, imports a contraption called The Duet. Is it a bicycle attached to a wheelchair or a wheelchair attached to a bicycle?
“It’s supervised cycling,” said product manager Monica Kessler. “A pedaler pedals the bike giving the person in the wheelchair the sense of inclusion, of being out there riding on the trail like everybody else.”
Ms. Kessler said The Duet sells to some private users, but at $5,000 to $9,000 its main market is institutions and organizations that help people with mobility challenges. One of her customers, she said, is the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children.
“Mostly we see nursing homes using it, schools, day care centers … and community bike riding programs, organizations that use The Duet to make sure their people are getting outside.”
One bicycling group, Joy Riders, will host a fundraising dinner to help members purchase two Duets for mobility-challenged participants. The dinner will be held at Rizzo’s Malabar Inn in Crabtree, Westmoreland County, on May 10. Get more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s not just The Duet that is pricey. Most adaptive recreation gear is costly, and insurance doesn’t cover it.
Nevertheless, outdoor time is about more than getting a good workout. Marcia Logan, a physical therapist and volunteer treasurer of Three Rivers Adaptive Sports, suggested that getting out can be a life-changing experience for people with physical challenges.
“It’s the same as it is for everybody else,” she said. “It’s socialization. It’s stress relief. If they find success doing an activity, it carries over in other parts of their lives. Our motto is, ‘If I can do this I can do anything.’ ”
Members of the Three Rivers organization, the Pittsburgh chapter of the nationwide Disabled Sports USA, have access to all kinds of adaptive loaner gear. For snow skiing: mono-skis (one ski and a seat), bi-skis (two skis and a seat) and outriggers (little skis mounted on little ski poles). For paddling: kayak-mounted stabilization pontoons, adaptive seating and special grips that hold onto paddles.
“Outdoors is something they don’t think they have access to, but there are so many opportunities today and so much more equipment than there used to be,” Ms. Logan said. “If they want to do something they can do it. They can find people to help them and get the help they need.”