Monday, June 27, 2016

iCanBike Cambridge!

Thanks to Nina Katz-Christy for her Guest Post about her iCan Bike experience. I recently met Nina at our annual Adaptive Recreation Fair in Brighton, MA and was delighted to meet such a young person already on board with facilitating adaptive recreation in her community. The power of volunteering changes lives!

A few years ago, I decided to volunteer at Arlington’s first iCan Bike Camp. These camps are hosted all across the country through iCan Shine, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching individuals with disabilities to ride conventional two-wheel bicycles. When I signed up to volunteer, I had no idea what to expect. The first day, I was very nervous but quickly got to know the riders and other volunteers. I immediately fell in love with the program and continued volunteering for the next few years.

Last year, I talked to the program’s host and she mentioned that there was a long waiting list for the camp, but she didn’t have enough space to accommodate all of the riders. This conversation eventually led to a friend and I hosting what will now be Cambridge’s first iCan Bike camp, taking place this August 15 - 19, 2016. Although this seemed like a daunting task, I could never have imagined the amount of work required to host a camp. I learned that there were many more behind-the-scene details than I had noticed as a volunteer. However, despite its difficulties, I have also met and worked with amazing people through this experience, such as the wonderful family lending their house for the week of camp to host staff, the director of iCan Shine, Jeff Sullivan, who responds to emails quicker than seems humanly possible, the director of the Arlington camp, my friend Zaida Block, who works tirelessly alongside me, and my family, who help me get through the stress that comes with organizing one of these.

I have been inspired by volunteers, parents, and riders. From a boy who hadn't spoken all week saying his first word to me on the final day of camp, to a boy I was spotting spontaneously yelling “I feel free!”, I have formed relationships with riders I will forever remember. I have continued to meet with one of the riders I worked with at this year’s camp in Arlington to work on his riding. Although he is not quite riding independently yet, he is always enthusiastic when I see him, constantly making jokes while he rides. Despite his positive attitude, however, there are times when he wants to stop before we have worked for very long. When he is unmotivated, his parents never cease to amaze me with their creative games to encourage him to keep going. Learning to bike is a process that can take many people working together, each utilizing their unique strengths, and is truly amazing to be a part of.

This year's day camp will have 40 riders that come for 75 minute sessions each day of the five day camp taking place at The Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School War Memorial Building on 459 Broadway in Cambridge.

To learn more about our camp, register, or sign up to be a volunteer spotter, please visit:

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Importance of Adaptive Recreation Fairs

On June 4, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation hosted an annual Adaptive Recreation Fair at Artesani Park in Brighton, MA. DCR's Universal Access Program has offered this friendly fair since 2007 to promote and kickoff the summer accessible recreation season in the greater Boston area and to provide a variety of adaptive bicycles for participants to ride.

People with disabilities and their families, friends and caregivers attend the fair to participate in an array of other activities and to sign up for summer recreation opportunities. Each year the fair has provided lots of delight and inspiration for those who attend. As it gradually builds a presence in the community over the years, I am reveling in the many special benefits of such an annual event.

People who attend discover whole new worlds of possibility opening up before them. First, there is an exceptionally welcoming crowd of people staffing 20 booths representing  organizations offering cool accessible things to do from amputee surfing to therapeutic horseback riding. Second, the advancements in adaptive recreation equipment continue to expand levels of ability - from newly manufactured recumbent trikes from Terra Trike to a locally designed independent hiking wheelchair like the GRIT Freedom Chair.

An exciting triumph of design is the ParaGolfer, an all terrain power wheelchair that can stand you up so you can swing a golf club anywhere on the course. Both the Freedom Chair and the ParaGolfer are recent advancements in adaptive equipment that DCR's Universal Access Program discovered at this event, then purchased for use in Massachusetts State Parks. Tom McCarthy, Universal Access Program director, tried the ParaGolfer for the first time this year and was thrilled to stand up in it.

Also this year several new organizations were present including Windrush Farm Therapeutic Equitation, Mass Audubon, Community Rowing, Challenge Athlete Foundation and the Museum of Fine Arts.  Each one of these organizations enhanced our event and opened new possibilities for attendees. The steady flow of traffic during the fair was a thrill for participating organizations who sometimes see limited attendance at local disability resource fairs.

The fair environment is a great place to network for everyone, including the organizations that are present!  We all walk away with more ideas and referrals to share with our clientele. One of my favorite new organizations present was ICanBike! a national organization that teaches people with disabilities such as Downs syndrome and Autism to ride conventional bicycles in a week long camp setting. I was inspired by 16 year old Nina Katz-Christy who recently started a local chapter in Cambridge.  Just the fact that someone so young has started an adaptive recreation venue shows you how far our world of adaptive recreation is evolving. This year's ICanBike! Camp is in August.

I love the way a community can be brought together with a day of fun to connect the dots in new ways. Ways2Go, for instance, demonstrates how to navigate the public transit system with a table-sized tactile map for people with visual impairments and presents many strategies to help people with disabilities get to the parks and other places.

It only takes a smattering of light activities like kite decorating and flying, a few games, face painting, a clown, a bubble machine, a DJ and of course plenty of snacks and water to generate a festive atmosphere. Add a couple of more physical recreation activities like cycling and hiking, a treasure hunt activity like letterboxing with
prizes, and voila! - you have a very pleasant and empowering day in the park. Everyone I saw attending and helping out at the event was jazzed about their experience and what they saw going on around them! Of course a nice sunny day with a gentle cooling breeze helps too!

Looking around online I find only a few such fairs, especially on a small, local outdoor scale taking place around the U.S. this spring. I highly encourage other communities and adaptive recreation networks to establish such a happy occasion as an annual event!

Did I miss any benefits? If so, please share!!

Monday, April 11, 2016

AccessSportsAmerica Offers Personal Fitness Training in Boston

This feature Guest Post by Mary Jane Fietze was originally published in the Winter 2016 issue of Disability Issues,a publication of Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Cambridge, MA. Photos provided by Nate Berry of AccessSportsAmerica. Thank you AccessSportsAmerica for focusing on fitness for people with disabilities!!!

Are you looking for a place to work out but are intimidated by the bulked-up body-builders that look like Arnold Schwarzenegger at your gym?  Is the equipment simply not made for someone with your disability?  Have you employed a personal trainer whom, frankly, did not understand your disability?  Does this sound like a TV ad that you might hear after all your New Year’s Resolutions are broken?  Well, expect the unexpected.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

12 Sensory Trails in Massachusetts Ready to Visit

There are now a dozen wheelchair accessible sensory trails in Massachusetts! For so long we only had one trail at Cape Cod National Seashore. Now a dozen trails are scattered across the Commonwealth and three more are on the way to being completed!

I got to share this exciting news last week at the FOCUS Conference for people with Visual Impairments and Blindness last week in Norwood, Massachusetts. It was so much fun to be the bearer of good news, along with Jerry Berrier. Jerry and I contributed to the Mass Audubon project which has put most of these sensory trails in place since 2009. I provided initial consultation, staff training and contacts from the disability community for testing concepts and completed trails. Jerry provided consultation as a blind birder and trail user as well as recording all the audio tours for the 10 (soon to be 14) trail project.

All but one of the recently developed sensory trails are located at Mass Audubon sanctuaries. The trails now have navigational systems, Braille signage and audio tours highlighting trail features that engage the senses at several stops. The trails are wheelchair accessible, start from the visitor center and travel up to a mile. Most are in the 1/2 mile range and connect to trail networks. They are a wonderful pathway for users of all ages and abilities to get closer to nature.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Trionic Veloped - Off-Road Walker for Hiking

The Trionic Veloped Off-Road Mountain Walker is a wonderful supportive aid for people with limited mobility who want to explore trails and expand their hiking options. We've been gradually integrating this attractive device into our adaptive outings in Massachusetts State Parks. This all-terrain walker has turned out to be a great match for several of our Universal Access Program participants with disabilities.

Previous to the introduction of the Veloped Mountain Walker - also called by the simpler name Trek - I noticed some people were bringing wheelchairs or rollators to hiking programs to provide balance and portable seating during the trail experience. This standard medical equipment is not designed for off-road conditions and often doesn't perform well on irregular pavement, let alone on a trail. Tiny wheels on the front casters of standard wheelchairs are notorious for getting stuck or requiring additional effort or support to push through gravel, brickwork and other uneven surfaces.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Dan Cnossen Skis in Massachusetts

Lucky me! I recently met Dan Cnossen, a Paralympic Nordic skier and biathlete who has been skiing at the Leo J. Martin Ski Track near Boston this winter.

As our Universal Access Program has started up for the season on site, I've been noticing Dan circling the course as I assist with program set up. It is wonderful to witness a Paralympic athlete moving with such power and grace mixed in with the usual Sunday crowd - families, couples, individuals, and young adults with autism who have been making up the bulk of our program so far. For further information on adaptive skiing opportunities at the Leo J. Martin Ski Track in Weston see the end of this post.

Dan's recent history is easy to convey in a few words: Navy Seal. Lt. Commander. Purple Heart. Bronze Star. Sochi Winter Paralympics. Dan lost his lower legs in Afghanistan in 2009 but this didn't slow down his forward momentum for long. Previously based in Colorado where he has continued to work with the Seals as well as train at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Dan is in Massachusetts working on a masters degree and making the most out of local snow.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Play Sled Hockey with Spaulding!

Last week I visited a sled hockey program at one of our DCR skating rinks and spontaneously ended up in hockey pads and helmet, doing puck passing and checking drills, and playing in game! After fifteen years of offering adapting skating programs in DCR skating rinks, it was a treat to experience the competitive dimension of sled hockey.

Three program staff were fitting new players and their companions into ice sleds when I arrived at the O'Neil Rink in Charlestown. There is a bit more to fitting people to ice sleds when hockey is involved. Blades are adjusted closer together and positioned under the sled for best balance to lift the front end of the sled and minimize drag on the ice. A nice tight fit into the seat allows the whole sled to become part of your body. The hardest part for me was grabbing sticks with hockey gloves on!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Angie and Dan Boyle Have a Great Year

I met Angie and Dan Boyle last July as new participants at our adaptive kayaking program at the D.A.R. State Forest. They quickly became dedicated participants, coming to several different programs weekly around the state all summer and making the most of every opportunity available. Angie's story is a true inspiration for getting out there and enjoying all the great benefits of time well spent in the outdoors! Thank you Angie and Dan Boyle for sharing your story in the following Guest Post! We look forward to seeing you this winter!

As the 20th anniversary year of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) Universal Access Program ends, we had to report the very significant impact its activities have had and continue to add to our lives.
Here’s a little background:

Angie and Dan on Spectacle Island.
On August 25, 2013, while swimming at Biddeford Pool, Maine, I (Angela) was swept by a rogue wave into a rock.  The result was a soft tissue brain injury.  That made it impossible for me to continue in my profession as a family nurse practitioner, a career I pursued since I was an early teen.  That was followed by multi-organ failure in late February 2014 for which I was hospitalized at Baystate Medical Center for eight days.  About eight weeks later, when the Baystate VNA was discharging me so I could attend rehabilitation classes at the Weldon Rehabilitation Hospital, I fell and fractured my left leg in three places.  Honestly, I felt like I was living Murphy’s Law:  Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. 
Besides the physical health problems, the mental anguish, anxiety and depression were taking their toll on my husband Danny and me.  Whenever Danny tried to get me out of bed and out of our apartment if only to take a drive in our car, I wasn’t interested.  The fact that I could no longer care for patients was causing major depression.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Hiking After Traumatic Brain Injury

"People with TBI are often physically inactive, leading to reduced fitness levels and secondary health conditions. Regular physical activity can enhance balance and coordination, decrease reliance on assistive devices, and improve ability to perform activities of daily life and, therefore, foster independence. Studies also suggest that exercisers with TBI were less depressed and reported a better quality of life than those who did not exercise. The key is to find which exercises the person with a TBI enjoys and develop an individualized exercise prescription that accommodates each person's needs and abilities."  
- National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability.
This fall, I happily designed and facilitated a pilot hiking program for people with traumatic brain injuries in western Massachusetts. Before we'd gotten our small group out on the trail, one of our participant's personal caregiver said to me, "I get more physical therapy with Kevin on the trail than in the clinic. It is so much more meaningful for him to be in nature. I'm limited to where we can hike though, because we can't go beyond a safe distance for emergency services in case anything happens. So mostly we hike on one trail in a local state park."

Friday, November 6, 2015

Go Grit Freedom Chair

This year I've test driven the Freedom Chair, a recently developed off-road manual wheelchair, twice. This stunningly solid, affordable and conveniently designed wheelchair was created by MIT students as a school project and produced in quantity for use in underdeveloped countries. This innovative entrepreneurial student group has since launched a company, called GRIT, to produce the Freedom Chair for sale in the U.S. In their first year they've sold seventy chairs so far.

I first tested the Freedom Chair in early spring, with snow still on the ground, as the Go Grit team was fundraising to produce their first round of chairs. A couple of us in the Universal Access Program were able to test ride it outside our office and discovered that it could travel over grassy terrain and snow patches with ease. We could even work it up over curbs and handle uneven terrain pretty well. Our landscape was limited though and we didn't have a true user, someone who actually uses a manual wheelchair, to give us what I would consider official feedback.