Joint venture provides outdoor

by Rebecca Czaplewski

Gathered in a circle examining a one-armed kayak paddle designed for people with disabilities, some University students got a chance to discuss wilderness trips and equipment made for those with disabilities Friday afternoon in the St. Paul Student Center.
This was the first time the Disabled Student Cultural Center, the Center for Outdoor Adventure and the Wilderness Inquiry came together on an issue. Wilderness Inquiry is a nonprofit organization that provides outdoor adventure trips for people of all abilities.
Amanda Perlman, interim chairwoman of DSCC, stressed the extreme mobility difficulties that some people with disabilities face in winter. She estimated that half of the University’s disabled population does not take classes during winter quarter. The snowy and icy conditions that can make getting around campus difficult also extends to the wilderness.
Forrest Hoover, a programming coordinator for Wilderness Inquiry insisted it is simple to make gear that is universally adaptable, and said the independence a person with disabilities gains when they master something without help is an important part of the wilderness trips.
He recalled a past trip that he believed symbolizes what the organization’s trips are all about: A man with a balance impairment helped push a woman in a wheelchair. Hoover said the symbiotic pairing was an important way to work around their disabilities in the outdoors.
“When an able-bodied person doesn’t need to help, that equals independence,” Hoover said.
Demonstrating how to use cross-country skis and snowshoes designed for people with disabilities, Hoover commented on the importance of the alliance between Wilderness Inquiry and the DSCC.
“The idea of breaking down barriers in trips for the disabled or abled — we offer experience for anyone to participate,” Hoover said. “The University is a hotbed of activity for that.”
Perlman said that while the primary goal of the event was to explore and promote wilderness trips that are accessible to all people, they also wanted to focus on having fun through the cultural center.
“People want to hear how to have fun and the opportunities available,” Perlman said.
After watching a short video and discussing past camping trips through Wilderness Inquiry, the group gathered together to demonstrate adaptive gear specifically designed for people with disabilities. Hoover presented the pair of snowshoes with special bindings and a wider base for people with mobility disabilities.
“They have the freedom to go anywhere, and that’s really liberating,” Hoover said.
Many students who attended the event were happy with the recent trend of extending accessibility to all places, including the wilderness.