Saturday, December 31, 2011

Jim Ebert - A Life Well Lived Helping Others to the Top

Jim Ebert (left) with Juan Botero at the top of
Mt. Kilimanjaro.
At year's end I offer up the story of Jim Ebert - a professional mountaineer who not only lived to summit the world's most challenging peaks, but focused his work on helping others experience the thrill of extreme adventure. Jim died this year in July at 64 years old, while climbing Mt. Whitney in California in preparation for a trip that will bring people with disabilities to the highest point in the lower 48 states.

Jim was raised in a family of mountain climbers who were well connected with the world's leading mountaineers. He took hold of the family's passion early on and devoted his life to the epic sport. Along with numerous personal climbing accomplishments, Jim also made a stunning array of contributions to the climbing world. These include guiding the Iowa Mountaineers to become the world's largest university climbing club, offering the first outdoor toprope instructor certification course in the U.S., training the U.S. military in mountain climbing and winter wilderness skills, and leading countless first ascents in the U.S. and abroad. In thirty years of climbing expeditions and trainings he maintained a perfect safety record, personally guiding over 67,000 people to 17 alpine countries ascending over 1300 major peaks. Jim loved to share the joys of reaching pristine places with others, yet his life work was not complete without helping those with disabilities to access the same thrill of adventure he sought out for himself.

Monday, December 19, 2011

DCR Hosts Accessible Winter Activities

Here's the official release on our winter program season! You can find these and more opportunities from other organizations on on Winter 2012 Recreation Calendar - just click the tab above.

This month begins the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s (DCR) Accessible Winter Activities calendar. DCR’s Universal Access Program will sponsor a wide variety of adaptive cold-weather recreation opportunities at locations across the Commonwealth. Designed for people with disabilities and their families and friends, the programs are free. Pre-registration is required.

Activities offered through March include accessible cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, kick sledding, snowmobiling. Staff assistance and free use of accessible equipment, such as sit skis and kick sleds, will be available.

DCR’s Universal Access Program is one of the most innovative accessible state park programs in the nation. It enables people with disabilities to participate in a wide variety of activities, making recreation programs in Massachusetts more inclusive. DCR invites participants to come out and enjoy the various adaptive winter programs, and is also looking for volunteers to assist with them. Interested volunteers should call Heidi Marie-Peterson at 413-577-3840. Two trainings are scheduled: January 7 at Wendell State Forest and January 22 at the Weston Ski Track.

For additional information on DCR’s Universal Access Program, a schedule of activities, and to preregister, visit  and click on “universal access.”

DCR Universal Access Program
2012 Winter Schedule

Call the phone numbers listed to register for these exciting programs!

Cross-Country Skiing, Snowshoeing, Kick-Sledding, and more!
D.A.R. State Forest, Goshen Thursdays: December 12 & 19, from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Tuesdays: March 6 & 13, from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. 413-259-0009

Weston Ski Track, Weston Sundays: January 19, February 5, 12, & 26; March 4
Monday: February 20 from 12 noon to 4 p.m. 413-259-0009

Mt. Tom Reservation, Holyoke Saturdays: January 21, February 4 & 18
Wednesday, February 22 from 11a.m. – 3p.m. 413-527-8980

Wendell State Forest, Wendell Saturdays: January 14 & 28, February 11 & 25, and March
3 from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. (includes snowmobile rides) 413-527-8980

Accessible Skating Program Schedule

Asiaf Memorial Rink, Brockton Sundays: January 15 & 29, February 12 & 26
 1:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m. 413-527-8980

Buffone Skating Rink, Worcester Thursdays: January 26 from 10 a.m.-noon; March 1 and 29,
 from 2 - 4 p.m. 413-577-3840

Cronin Rink, Revere Tuesdays: January 10, February 14, & March 20, from
 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. 413-577-3840

Fitzpatrick Skating Rink, Holyoke Sundays: January 22, February 26, March 18 and April 1, from
12 noon to 2 p.m. 413-577-3840

Kelly Outdoor Rink, Jamaica Plain Wednesday: January 18 and February 1, from 1-3p.m.

Steriti Rink, Boston – North End Tuesdays: January 24 and February 7 from 1:30-3:30 p.m.
Thursday, February 9 from 7 – 9 p.m. Call 413-577-3840.
Tuesday, February 21 from 1:30 - 3:30 p.m. Call 413-577-3840.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Ice Sleds Available for Public Skating & Winter Gear You Can Use at Weston Ski Track!

The skating season is upon us and many state rinks in Massachusetts have accessible ice skating sleds for people with disabilities to use on their own during public skating! Call in advance to ensure availability and find out anything else you need to know before you go!

Here is a list of places to go:

Auburn - Horgan Rink: 508-832-7201 (2 sleds)
Cambridge - Simoni Rink: 617-354-9523 (3 kids sleds)
Boston: Hyde Park - Bajko Rink: 617-364-9188 (2 kids sleds)
Boston: North End - Steriti Rink: 617-523-9327 ( 2 sleds)
Boston: West Roxbury - Roche Rink: 617-323-9512 (4 sleds)
Brockton - Asiaf Rink: 508-583-6804 (4 sleds)
Franklin - Pirelli/Vets Rink: 508-541-7024 (2 sleds)
Greenfield - Collins/Moylan Rink: 413-772-6891 (2 sleds)
Holyoke - Fitzpatrick Rink: 413-532-2929 (6 sleds)
Jamaica Plain - Kelly Rink {OUTDOORS!}: 617-727-7000 (1 sled)
Medford - Flynn Rink: 781-395-8492 (2 sleds)
Newburyport - Graf Rink: 978-462-8112 (1 sled)
North Adams - Vietnam Vets Rink: 413-664-8185 (3 sleds)
Plymouth - Armstrong Rink: 508-746-8825 (2 sleds)
Revere - Cronin Rink: 781-284-9491 (4 sleds)
Springfield - Smead Rink: 413-781-2599 (4 sleds)
Taunton - Alexio Rink: 508-824-4987 (2 sleds)

Each sled has a set of hockey sticks with which you can propel yourself and there is at least one stroller bar at each rink to allow for being pushed too. Some sleds have more support - a higher back and chest strap for those who need additional stabilization. If a rink has 2 sleds, one will feature extra support and a stroller bar handle. Kids usually fit fine into adult sleds (but alas the reverse it not true!). If you prefer to use another DCR rink that isn't listed, call 413-545-5758 to see if we can accommodate your need.

At the Weston Ski Track outside Boston, there are 2 cross country sitskis and 2 kicksleds available for use. Even if there is no snow, as long as its cold enough, snow is made for 2km of groomed trails! When there is snow, the trails expand! For those who have utilized the adaptive ski programs on site but don't have their own sitskis, you can go on your own any day of the week! If you are already experienced at sitskiing, contact the Ski Track at 781-891-6575 to find out how you can access the snow. The Ski Track is open until 9pm Monday - Thursday! Try night skiing!
Scandinavian kicksleds are a nice accommodation for anyone who can't walk far and would like to tour the trails with an assistant to push them. They are also great movable seating for seniors who would like to watch ski races at the Weston Ski Track!

For a list of adaptive winter program opportunities in Massachusetts, click on the Winter Calendar tab under the header above.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Accessible Gyms and Adaptive Fitness - A Ticket to Greater Adventure

While recovering from a serious illness fifteen years ago, I started to work out at my local gym. I've been working out ever since because it feels good and keeps me in reasonable shape. A friend helped me get started and now as my partner supports my regular routine. (A tip-o-the-laptop to you Meb!) Over time, I've come to realize that fitness habits of stretching, cardio, nautilus weight training, and that rewarding sauna afterwards not only contribute to my greater health, but support my outdoor activities, from yard work to long bike rides.

The benefits of good health and fitness can't be underestimated yet it seems that our society is increasingly losing its grip on how to maintain healthy habits. While there are many known factors for this sad trend, people with disabilities have significant risk for poorer health according to a recent report. You don't have to be a serious athlete to benefit from exercise. Those benefits can be as simple as feeling better, making more social connections, gaining strength, endurance, resilience, and self confidence.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Adaptive Games Debut Before Snowstorm

I took a break from preparing for a shockingly early snowstorm today to observe our first Adaptive Games program at Mt. Tom State Reservation in Holyoke. Lead by Heidi Marie-Peterson and a small group of volunteers, about 40 students from Chicopee High School participated in three rounds of outdoor games. Students with and without intellectual disabilities were paired up as Best Buddies. The Adaptive Games program offered new Best Buddies an opportunity to get to know each other and recreate together outside of school. Cold temperatures, wet ground, and the threat of an early snowstorm did not stop anyone from having a good time on the playing field near the top of the mountain!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Big Beautiful Birds - An Accessible Michigan Outing

Just back from a family trip to Michigan and I am pleased to share a positive report on accessibility in my home state. My mom, brother and I took a trip 30 minutes west of Ann Arbor to the Waterloo Recreation Area in hopes of seeing Sandhill Cranes.

Sandhill Cranes are in migration right now, congregating in open fields and wetlands in south central Michigan to rest and fuel up on remnants of corn and grain left on the ground after harvesting, as well as a wide array of insects still kicking in these last days before deep frost. The land was once prairie, but now patches of forest dot the open country too. The 4 1/2 foot high cranes are easy to spot from your car (car birding being one of the most accessible forms of birding!) or as they come in to roost in known locations in the evening. Although I've seen a few Sandhill Cranes over the years, mostly on golf courses in Florida in the winter, I was excited by the possibility of finding them in a more natural environment so close to where I grew up.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Interpretive Sensory Trail Grand Opening in Easthampton

Sample audio tour stop offers a tactile
opportunity for everyone.
Congratulations to Massachusetts Audubon for their dedicated work in preparing inclusive trail experiences at ten of their statewide nature sanctuaries! In a grant project funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Mass Audubon has been adding sensory interpretation along wheelchair accessible sections of trail that start from parking lots at visitor centers and offer a dynamic exposure to the natural environment. With input from trail lovers with disabilities and other specialists, the project has developed methods of providing a site-suitable audio component to assist with navigation in addition to offering interpretive information. I've had a tiny part in helping advise the project - and having been a member of Mass Audubon for over 20 years, I am really happy to see more of their natural places accessible to a wider variety of visitors.

The project spans a three year period over which sensory trails are opening across the state. Broadmoor Sanctuary in Natick and Stony Brook Sanctuary in Norfolk already have accessible interpretive sensory trails in place. Trails at Attleboro Springs and Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary have been recently completed. More will open next year, so this is a great time to get out and explore new trails, especially for those who have visual impairments!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Duet Wheelchair Tandem Allows Everyone A Biking Experience

Chauncey McCarthy assists DCR's Universal Access Program as a summer seasonal equipment specialist. He maintains our adaptive recreation equipment and supports participants at programs with his helpful presence, physical strength, mechanical ability and tool kit in tow. In this Guest Post, he offers info and tips on the use of a popular tandem bike that allows passive riders to have a front row experience of cycling.

The Duet is a wheelchair tandem bicycle that allows for someone to sit in the front as the person in the back pedals and steers. It is manufactured in Europe and distributed in the U.S. by Frank Mobility. Well-engineered, the retail price starts at $4,750 so it is not the most affordable bike, which is one reason DCR has made it available at cycling programs.

This front seat of this bike is a great fit for anybody, child or adult, who is non-mobile but wants to enjoy the outdoors. The front seat does haves a weight limit of 275 pounds. The front end of the bike is a wheelchair with a padded seat made in one size. I would recommend using padding around someone that is smaller then the seat to avoid the rider from sliding around and secure legs if desired. The wheelchair seat also offers a headrest, leg rest, chest harness and a safety belt. Wearing a rounded skate board style helmet or a bike helmet without a pointed back prevents the headrest from interfering with head and neck comfort.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Life is Good Festival 2011

Here is a Guest Post and photos from Heidi Marie-Peterson, project coordinator for DCR's Universal Access Program - thanks Heidi!

I am still waving a ride of enthusiasm and optimism after spending the weekend (September 24 &25) at the Life is Good Festival at the Prowse Farm in Canton, MA. The Life is Good Festival was a two day extravaganza of music, optimism, games, art activities and family fun attended by about 20,000 people. Whether you were there to compete in the seed spitting contest, have a picnic, watch the BMX bike stunt show, contribute to a mural, climb a rock wall, or hang out at the kids stage on a comfy bean bag chair, there was something for EVERYONE! There were absolutely amazing musicians playing throughout the weekend; a few of my favorites included Ray Lamontagne, Michael Franti and Spearhead, Raphael Saadiq, Maceo Parker, Martin Sexton and The Levon Helm Band among others!

Monday, September 26, 2011

In Juan's Words: The Last and First Miles

Here is a fantastic Guest Post from Juan Martin Botero, sharing his story about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and why he mentors for Partners for Youth with Disabilities. You can make a donation in support of PYD by sponsoring Juan on Saturday's Rodman Ride for Kids in Boston by clicking here. Donations will be accepted until November 15! Thanks Juan, for sharing your story!!

Often when I go biking long distances or if I go up or down through mountain trails; the last mile is the longest and is the hardest. In the night we started the final approach to Uhuru Peak, the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (one year ago), skies were clear and there was no moon, so it was extremely cold and it was pitch dark. The light of my headlamp revealed just a couple of feet of trail, and revealed some of the porters who were busy organizing the gear and fitting my chair/device. Still the anxiety and the adrenaline from the previous days were fueling my determination to put a foot in the summit. But it was the last mile… Nevertheless, it was not the time to give up, although I was tired, cold, and knew the trail only in maps, so I did not have a concrete idea of what was coming, only that it was rocky, narrow and steep in some parts.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Change Peoples Lives - Successful Expo in Boston

I-Zip scooter user  minimizes use of
wheelchair and even gets out on some trails!

The Rodman Ride has been postponed this weekend due to wet weather but yesterday's rain didn't prevent people with disabilities of all kinds from attending the Change People's Lives Conference and Expo at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. Kudos to the Institute for Human Centered Design for masterfully convening an event hosted by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that showcased assistive technology and attracted an enthusiastic crowd!

It has been a few years since I attended an assistive technology expo. It was a treat to talk shop with other professionals and meet people already active in sports and others seeking recreation opportunities. There were panels on four conference themes of Home, Work, Education and Fitness/Sport/Recreation, an exhibit hall of related products and services, a juried design competition and a plenary session that featured a host of inspiring speakers including Governor Deval Patrick, Cheri Blauwet (MD at Spaulding Rehab Hospital and Paralympian), Gianfranco Zacchai (designer), and Gururaj Deshpande (entrepreneur and philanthropist). Assistive technology has high promise as an emerging new market with ideals transcending the "special products for special needs" orientation that has brought us this far. My mind and eyes were opened wider quite a few times during the day - by products, ideas, and people's stories.
Talking with a telepresent person via a robotic device.

A few highlights: learning about Fred Fay - an amazing disability rights activist who interfaced with the world from his bed, a robotic telepresence device called VGo that allows you to experience locations you might not physically be able to get to, a woman with an incomplete spinal cord injury that uses an I-Zip scooter as her wheelchair, and a bike called Glide Cycle that allows users to have an unweighted exercise experience. I even found something for myself there - Wrist Assured Gloves - innovative fitness gloves that minimize wrist stress.

It was fantastic to see that fitness for people with disabilities was a major area of dialogue in the conference. Paralympian athletes like Anjali Forber-Pratt are paving the way, but there is still great need for more welcoming and universally designed gyms that work for people with a wide array of variable function. We joined that conversation in panel discussions and handed out loads of information about park accessibility. I have high hopes that more people with disabilities will be improving their health indoors and out!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Juan Botero - Inspiring Mountaineer and Fundraiser for Kids

Juan on his Greenspeed recumbent bike.
This Saturday, September 24th, is the annual Rodman Ride for Kids in Boston - a unbrella charity event in which various local organizations will be raising money through sponsorships. About 1200 cyclists will ride 25, 50, or 100 mile non-competitive tours to raise money for youth-focused social service agencies that support and improve the lives of at-risk children in Massachusetts. Among the cyclists will be Juan Martin Botero, riding 25 miles to raise money for Partners for Youth with Disabilities.

Juan en route to Machu Picchu in Peru.
Juan is a native of Colombia who was born with Ataxia, a genetic and degenerative neurological disease that didn't start to effect his life until he was 26 years old, two years after he moved to the U.S. An experienced mountain climber and guide in Columbia, Juan continues to follow his passion at age 37 from a wheelchair. Through an Iowa-based organization called Alpenglow Adventures, Juan has fulfilled dreams to hike 10 miles to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, summit 19,340 foot Mt. Kilimanjaro, and hike 28 miles to Machu Picchu in Peru. In doing so, he became the first person who cannot walk to access these remote locations. Of these three sites, Juan's favorite trek was Kilimanjaro.

I asked Juan about the adaptive equipment provided by Alpenglow that he used to complete these adventures. The Trailrider got him to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, along with lots of assistance. The kilicart, more comfortable and maneuverable for longer trips, was used in Africa and Peru. Both are assistive devices that allow other hikers to push and pull the wheeled hiker. (Alpenglow welcomes experienced hikers to join trips as porters!) The challenge with this type of gear is building in more independent usage. Juan says, "The more I use the devices, I want to improve their design." I notice this too - there is plenty of room for improvement with adaptive hiking chairs we use in our programs.

Juan and Alpenglow hikers atop Mt. Kilamanjaro.
This will be his third year cycling in the Rodman Ride for Kids. Juan is a inspiring mentor for youth with disabilities. Click here to sponsor Juan on the ride - and help Partners for Youth with Disabilities continue to provide support, understanding and guidance via positive adult role models for youth with disabilities as they strive to reach their personal, educational and career goals. Go Juan!!!!

Other Boston area events this weekend: Get to one if you can!
Change People's Lives - Conference and Expo - Friday, September 23 - Hynes Center
Life is Good Festival - Prowse Farm, Canton - Saturday and Sunday, September 24 and 25

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Kite Festivals - A Celebration of Color and Fun!

A slide of the sky viewed through arches made of kites.
My spirits are still soaring after attending yesterday's Capriccio Festival of Kites in Ogunquit, Maine. It was a perfect day for the beach with sunny skies, a touch of clouds, and a gentle cooling breeze. As Meb and I drove down the lane from the center of town to the beach, big "WOWs" escaped our throats as we gazed at enormous kites and quantities of richly colored designs riding the wind.

We had come with a big bag of kites to fly ourselves, but also to help with the event, in exchange for free parking ($20 otherwise!) and a free t-shirt  We donned our t-shirts and became instant judges for the kite decorating contest. Tables were set out in the parking lot (very accessible!) where kids were busy coloring sled style kites with markers. I was pleased to find one young participant in a power wheelchair at the task!

With a fistful of award certificates we strolled down the very crowded beach at high tide amidst a carnival-like atmosphere with hundreds of kites sailing in the air. It was a panoramic scene full of wild creations instilling awe at every step. From the tiniest dancing ladybug kite to the massive powerfoil holding a steady immobile presence above the crowd we delighted in the visual feast of buoyant colors. Our job was to seek out children, admire their kites, and hand out certificates that allowed them to get a free kite or festival t-shirt. What fun we had - even before we got to fly our kites!

Along the way we noticed a few other people with obvious disabilities in the mix and found Nolan, the young participant in the power wheelchair we'd met at the coloring table, now using one of the town's beach wheelchairs with kite in hand. (There is ramp to the beach!) This was Nolan's third year at the event and I know we'll be back too! Next year I hope to see more people with disabilities!

Festival scene at Ogunquit Beach barely hints at the variety
and quantity of kites on site from this angle. The biggest kite
in this picture is enormous.

Upcoming Kite Events in New England: Even a drive-by is worth it if you are uncertain about access! Many kite festivals seem to be free spirited public events, without full details in advance - just show up and enjoy! At kite fly is simply a group on kitefliers who have announced a date and place to show up and fly together. In either case, if you have any, bring your own kites to fly!

October 1, November 5, December 3: KONE Monthly Kite Fly on Nahant Beach, Lynn, MA. Contact Gary Quinton at 781-595-7687 or for more information. KONE is Kites Over New England, an organization devoted to kite flying of which anyone can be a member. I found out about the Capriccio Festival of Kites and these other events through their monthly calendar.

October 8 and 9: East Meets West Kite and Cultural Festival sponsored by the Chinese Multimedia Society, from 10am - 4pm each day at the Pope John Paul II Park in Dorchester, MA. Pope John Paul II Park has accessible parking and paved pathways with pavilions but no accessible restrooms.

Our favorite kid's kite design on right. We saw several 9-11
commemorative kites, but this one stole our hearts.

October 9: One Sky One World - a worldwide kiteflying event for peace and understanding, with events taking place all over the world. Click on link for more info about this amazing endeavor.

November 12: Holiday Kite Fly on Hampton Beach, NH. Contact Ralph Reed at 978-937-8290 or for more information. (I can't find a thing about accessibility at Hampton Beach on-line!)

November 13: Veterans Day Fly at Hammonasset State Park, CT. Contact Richard Bromley at 203-288-1582 or for more information. Hammonasset State Park features accessible parking, bathrooms, boardwalk, camping, picnic tables, and beach wheelchairs!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Significant Health Disparities for People with Disabilities - Change That Now!

This family attended our cycling program last week in Hadley
- a perfect example of taking on the fun of improving health!
Photo by Nancy Bazanchuk.

In the past few days I received this update from the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire:

Compared to racial and ethnic minority groups, people with disabilities are generally more likely to experience poorer health, according to a new report from the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability (IOD). The report, “Health Disparities Chart Book on Disability and Racial and Ethnic Status in the United States,” examines the health status of working-age (18-64) people with disabilities, as reported to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, the nation’s premier public health survey."

Among the key findings in the report:

  • If people with disabilities were a formally recognized minority group, at 19% of the population, they would be the largest minority group in the United States.
  • The highest proportion of people who say their health is fair or poor is found in people with disabilities (40%, compared to 23% of Hispanics, 22% of American Indian/Alaska Natives, 18% of blacks, and 8% of Asians). 
  • People with disabilities have the least desirable prevalence rates for 10 of the 14 selected health indicators including cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
You can download the full report at IOD's website (link above). Just this much was enough for me to realize painfully (after 16 years of dedicated effort to improving adaptive recreation opportunities!) how important it still is for people with disabilities to find ways to improve their quality of life, get more exercise and enjoy the benefit of the outdoors. With this in mind, I recommend the following upcoming events:

CHANGE PEOPLE'S LIVES - September 23, Hynes Convention Center, Boston. At this day long conference and free expo you can experience the current state-of-the-art of inclusive products and technologies that transform the lives of people with disabilities and older people and enhance everyone's lives. Focus areas are Home, Work, Learning and Fitness/Recreation/Sport. Here is what I know about it: You can even find me there - with DCR's Universal Access Program in the exhibit area where we will have adaptive recreation equipment on display. This will be a great event for tapping into available resources and networking. I hear the Governor is coming! And it will be a GREAT TIME!

LIFE IS GOOD FESTIVAL - September 24 and 25, Prowse Farm, Canton, Massachusetts. This is a doubly beneficial event for kids of all ages! You go to have fun and at the same time your ticket raises money to help kids overcome trauma and life-threatening challenges by supporting Playmakers. There are musical performances by bands throughout the weekend and activities of all stripes including: Art for All Mural, dog show, BMX stunt show, instrument petting zoo, yoga, an endless variety of games, and more. Here's what I know about it: There is a team of doctors volunteering at the event to ensure that people with disabilities can participate in and enjoy the activities! On-line - check out the FAQ's about access for people with disabilities under "Event Info". Email if you have questions before you go. On site, ask for the "access program" at the Information Tent. And have a GREAT TIME!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Glorious Day on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia

Bo Tanner reports on the experience and results for the Holyoke Rows team participation in the 30th annual Bayada Regatta in Philadelphia on August 20. Luckily, the event was one week before
tropical storm Irene hit Philadelphia!

Holyoke Rows team from left to right: Jim Sliski, Ben Kidston, T,
Bo Tanner, Carlos Gonzalez, Stephanie Moore, and Jim Brooks.

Five members of the Holyoke Rows adaptive rowing team and coach Stephanie Moore traveled south on Friday August 19th for some fun in the sun and heavy duty competition at the nations only adaptive only regatta. That’s right, the able bodied athletes had to sit this one out and watch the fierce competition. We started with the Jolly Up cocktail party receiving information on the course, races, rule changes, and greeting old friends. The athletes were also informed that around half of the Paralympic rowing team were competing in this regatta as a warm-up for the world competition starting on the following Monday in Croatia. Yikes! I hoped all that training this summer would pay off! We got an unexpected surprise when our little buddy T showed up at the party with his mom, our coach, Stephanie Moore. This was a boost for the athletes as T is one of our biggest supporters at the Holyoke boathouse, and a great man in the pit crew. Just the week before 8-year-old T rowed a single by himself on the Connecticut River with a swift current.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The 'Horse' Power

Emily Piccirilli just finished her second summer with DCR's Universal Access Program serving as an office clerk and providing registration and support at programs. As an avid horseback rider, she recently visited our small by mighty riding program at Bradley Palmer State Park. Here is her Guest Post perspective on the program!
Someone once told me that there is a healing ability within horses. Whether you have a disability or you just need time away from the stresses of life, horses have a way with a person that is magical. A "man's best friend" may be even better applied to horses. They have a way of boosting the confidence within yourself, and sensing your emotions and abilities. When a relationship is formed between horse and rider the healing is endless.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Getting Ready for the Regatta

Bo Tanner (wearing last year's Bayada Regatta t-shirt!)
and Jim Sliski clean boats in preparation for the Regatta.
Today was a lovely August day for a perfect visit at the Jones Ferry Access Center in Holyoke! When I arrived, a few older women were getting kayak lessons on the Connecticut River, which was smooth under a sunny sky with clouds. When I left a few hours later, a busy boat washing was taking place in front of the boathouse, where three adaptive rowers were getting ready for the Bayada Regatta coming up this weekend in Philadelphia.

Jim Sliski, Jim Brooks and Bo Tanner have been rowing - and competing - for several years now, using the Jones Ferry Access Center run by Holyoke Rows. Jim Sliski started rowing with DCR's Universal Access Program in 1996 upriver in Northampton, and has been a steady presence on the water ever since. He is competing this weekend though admits his "stamina is not great "as various health challenges have slowed down his training in the last year. Jim Brooks has had a "great summer" and is looking forward to Philadelphia. Bo is racing in three races, in doubles with partners and a singles race. Best wishes to all three this weekend!!!

Bo takes a light training run on the river today
after weeks of steady training.
Holyoke Rows is a non-profit organization I sometimes think of as a pseudonym for Stephanie Moore, the soft-spoken mother of four who tapped into local resources to convert a rundown river front into a thriving recreational community center just east of the Holyoke Mall. A firm believer in "access for all", Stephanie has made a traditionally elite sport available to an often disadvantaged local demographic that includes city kids, seniors, and people with disabilities.
The Bayada Regatta is an internationally famous adaptive rowing competition, now in its 30th year. It is the oldest and largest adaptive rowing competition in the U.S. This year's Regatta takes place Saturday, August 20, from 8am-4pm.  Holyoke Rows will run its annual Paper City Regatta this year on September 25 at the Jones Ferry Access Center. I'm sure we'll see both Jims and Bo at this race too!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Great Gear You Can Use! - in State Parks!

Sun worship at Salisbury Beach State Reservation.
There is still plenty of time to enjoy the beach this season! Most coastal New England states offer beach wheelchairs at state parks. Styles may vary but usually require someone to push. Chairs are designed to get you TO the water, assistance may be necessary to get INTO the water.

Massachusetts State Parks: Over 40 parks offer beach wheelchairs on the ocean and inland! Beach wheelchairs are made of PVC pipe and feature a movable arm for transfers and large balloon tires for travel across sand to the water. No fee to use – bring someone to push the chair. Reservations are sometimes required and always recommended. Contact the park directly. Click here for a list of parks with beach wheelchairs.

Connecticut State Parks: Five parks - Hammonasset Beach, Rocky Neck, Sherwood Island, Silver Sands and Squantz Pond - have beach wheelchairs available for visitors. The chairs are free of charge and are on a first come, first serve basis.

Rhode Island State Parks:  Beach wheelchairs are available free of charge, also on a first come, first serve basis, at the following R.I. state beach locations; Scarborough North, Scarborough South, and Roger Wheeler.

Maine State Parks: At least 2 state parks in the southern region advertise beach wheelchairs. Call the regional headquarters in Augusta at 207-624-6080 for more information about beach wheelchairs at Crescent Beach State Park (near Portland) and Popham Beach State Park (near Bath).

Perforrmance style handcycle available to ride in R.I.
There are two New England locations worth knowing where you can use a state-provided handcycle to ride beautiful coastal areas!

Cape Cod Rail Trail - Rent a handcycle and ride through several Cape Cod towns on forested paths! You can also explore adjacent Nickerson State Park bike paths. Two adult touring models (Quickie Mach 3) available at Cape Cod Rail Trail Bike Shop.

East Bay Bike Path -  On a first come, first serve basis, two hand cycles are available at Colt State Park for use through out the park or for the East Bay Bike path in Bristol, Rhode Island.

Ice Sled in use at Buffone Arena in Worcester.
Surprised? Some ice rinks are open year round and offer wonderful respite from the heat or an alternative rainy day activity. Many state rinks in Massachusetts offer ice sleds for seated skating, with short hockey sticks with picks for self -propulsion and an attachable stroller bar for those who need to be pushed. Check out public skating times on-line for each rink. No fee to use sleds, rink admission fee may apply. Recommended  year round rinks:

Jim Roche Community Ice Arena in West Roxbury - currently 7 sleds with 7 handles through October 6th.

Smead Skating Arena in Springfield - currently 4 sleds with 2 handles year round.

Buffone Arena in Worcester - currently 4 sleds with 2 handles year round.

Armstrong Skating Arena in Plymouth - currently 2 sleds with 1 handle year round.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Creating Ability Offers High Quality Kayak Adaptations

Creating Ability kayak set up with pontoons and low back
seat in use at D.A.R. State Forest in Goshen.
It is challenging to post with peak time in summer recreation activities taking place now, but here is a quick look at kayaking. In particular, we are putting some new kayaks from Creating Ability into good use at our kayak programs in Concord, Worcester and the Berkshires.

I was thrilled to discover Creating Ability last summer and purchase some kayaks with pontoons and adaptive seating this year. The design is the best I've seen for pontoons on kayaks, which provide greater stability for more vulnerable paddlers. I especially like the independence these boats offer to paddlers who might otherwise have to be in a tandem for the stability reasons or struggle to paddle independently with compromised stability and comfort. The boats come with color coordinated pontoons in a complete package - very nice!

Paddler struggling with balance and proper seating could
benefit from pontoons and more formal adaptive seating.
The adaptive seat offers good trunk support for those who need it. The high back can be easily removed. Both low back and high back sides adjust in and out to accommodate narrower and wider bodies. The seats can be angled or straight depending on preference and comfort. The addition of a Jackson "sweet cheeks" cushion, which easily fits to your specific anatomy, adds a final level of comfort. I'm surprised people are willing to get out of these kayaks when their sessions are over!

Other recreation organizations in Massachusetts that have been acquiring kayaks from Creating Ability this year include All Out Adventures, Holyoke Rows, and Waypoint Adventure. These boats are making their way into a variety of kayak fleets! Thanks again to Ralphe Marche of New England Handicapped Sports Association for showing me this great equipment last summer!

If you are looking for better grip adaptation for kayak paddles, you may not need to look further than Creating Ability. For years we've been making do with home-made adaptations that help hold hands to paddles while still allowing them to slip out easily. Charlie Croteau makes a great hand adaptation for people who are quadriplegic but doesn't mass market it. Creating Ability provides three good solutions for common hand adaptions needed in paddling - a simple grip support to keep fingers on paddle, a more involved wrist and grip support for people who are quadriplegic, and a way for one armed or hemiplegic paddlers to succeed. This last adaptation is currently going through a design change so we are still waiting to try it out. Check it all out on their website:

Friday, July 29, 2011

Explore the Parks with Outdoor Access

DCR park interpreter describes fort history on Georges Island.
Summer is rolling along and so is our adaptive hiking program! Here's an update:

Outdoor Access, affiliated with Stavros Independent Living Center in Amherst, MA, facilitates these gentle outings as part of our DCR Universal Access Program each year from May through Octoberr. Recent outings to Rutland State Park outside of Worcester, Georges Island in Boston Harbor, Walden Pond, and Blue Hills Reservation south of Boston have all been described as "Fun!" by everyone I've talked to. Adaptive recreation equipment and friendly staff allow for better access to park trails. Interpretation and letterboxing give the hikes an educational and playful component.

Georges Island is a unique place to visit - it features a historical military fort and a brand new visitor center. Recent additions of 6 ramps make the fort more accessible than ever before. A pleasant ferry ride from Long Wharf in Boston will get you there, with Boston Best Cruises. Consider visiting Spectacle Island too - its a real beauty with gentle hills that offer easy travel to the summit along a paved path - with a great view of Boston. You can go on your own any day of the week. If you use a wheelchair you'll want to be aware of the tides and contact the park to ensure best docking times. Each year we offer a group accessible tour with Outdoor Access and for some people, "it is the only way to go!"

The use of a mountain wheelchair for more rugged terrain
allows staff to better assist wheelchair users.
Yesterday's hike at Blue Hills Reservation in Milton took place on a perfect summer day. Two groups came from The Educational Cooperative and a low vision group joined us later. Some families also participated with several young children. Everyone enjoyed finding stamp, stickers and simple game activities in letterboxes while hiking a mile around Houghton's Pond. 
Join us for more state park outings!!! Don't miss out! Individuals, families and groups welcome! To register for any of the following programs, call Outdoor Access at 413-259-0009.

August 15         Breakheart Reservation, Saugus
August 31         Robinson State Park, Agawam
September 15   Chicopee State Park, Chicopee
October 6         Borderland State Park, Sharon
October 12       D.A.R. State Forest, Goshen
October 22       Maudslay State Park, Newburyport

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

New Adaptive Recreation Discoveries Near and Far - Via Word of Mouth

The Boston Renegade Beep Baseball team. Rob Thayer
on the far right side standing tall.
At last week's ADA celebration in Gardner, I met Robert Thayer, a blind man who mentioned to me he plays Beep Baseball with the Boston Renegades.

"Beep Baseball!" I said, "What's that??"

"It's baseball for blind people," he smiled as he explained. "We play with an electronic ball that makes a tone we can hear. There are two bases instead of three, and the pitcher and catcher are sighted, but everyone else is blind."

I finally got to look it up today. Check out this YouTube video that shows the game in play. So cool!

Wheelchair swing in use at Morgan's Wonderland.
This week, while flying kites on the beach in Falmouth, I met a woman who told me all about an inclusive amusement park in Texas where everyone can enjoy a family fun park experience in grand style. She couldn't remember the name of it though. Thanks to the internet that is no longer a barrier! Just search for "accessible amusement park, Texas" and you'll find the website for Morgan's Wonderland, no problem! Very inspiring place!

I'm particularly intrigued by the Sensory Village and the Music Garden - there is also an accessible carousel (we have one here in at Holyoke Heritage State Park also). You'll find an amazing array of opportunities at Morgan's Wonderland, including a dedicated fitness center for people with disabilities. According to the website, only 10% of the population of people with disabilities engages in sports and recreation play. (Ouch!) Maybe that's true in Texas, but not here in New England, RIGHT? Actually, Ross Lilley of AccessSport America in Acton, MA, was just interviewed in the Boston Globe and he talked about the same phenonmenon. If you have any more perspective on this, please share!

In the meantime, the woman on the beach told me she'd heard of someone who moved to Texas just to live near Morgan's Wonderland! Check it out!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Celebrating the ADA in Kayaks!

It was almost 100 degrees today - just a shade cooler in Gardner, Massachusetts, than the "feels like" temperature of 108 degrees in Boston. At Dunn Park an annual celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) brought out over 100 people to enjoy the outdoors.

The ADA helps prevent discrimination against Americans with disabilities and was signed into law on July 26, 1990. As one woman said to me today, "the ADA is what I refer to if anyone questions me when I request tutors for my son in school."

Despite the heat advisory forecast today, the Massachusetts Statewide Independent Living Council held the outdoor picnic with live music and DCR's Universal Access Program offered kayaking and hiking with All Out Adventures and Stavros Outdoor Access facilitating the activities.

Lots of people with a wide variety of disabilities kayaked for short half hour tours on Dunn Pond, many for the first time. A lively breeze kept paddlers relatively cool for a refreshing experience. Big thanks to All Out Adventures and DCR park staff for providing this opportunity.

Join All Out Adventures for more paddling this summer!! Here is a quick list of program opportunities in state parks. Call AOA at 413-527-8980 to sign up for one hour time slots and a relaxing paddling lesson. Celebrate the 21st anniversary of the ADA out on the water!!!!

Concord: Walden Pond State Reservation, Mondays: July 25, August 1, 8, and 15

Worcester: Quinsigamond State Park, Regatta Point: Thursdays: August 4, 11 and 18

Goshen (Berkshires): DAR State Forest: Wednesdays: July 27, August 3, 10 and 17

Westfield: (canoes): Tuesdays: August 2, 9 and 16

Friday, July 15, 2011

Family Camping Fun and Tips for Success

It’s that time of year again – camping season! This is a Guest Post from Peter Chase, co-parent of three kids, one of whom has a disability, all of whom love camping. Peter volunteered with our REC Connect Skating Program in Worcester this winter and now provides his personal story and expertise on family camping in New England. He also kindly offers himself as a resource to families interested in camping. Thanks Peter!

Peter and Everett enjoying the water together.
Our family loves to go camping from spring through Columbus Day. I am grateful that our parents took us camping when were kids – there’s nothing I looked forward to and enjoyed more.

Now that I have three children of my own, the tradition continues. My kids love it as much as I did. Some trips are just our immediate family, some are with extended family, where family members bond with each other while enjoying a refreshing dips in the pond, playing ball, or exchanging stories by the campfire. All without the distraction of electronics – imagine that!

Seven years ago, we welcomed our son Everett into the world. Everett has a form of Menkes disease, leaving him non-verbal and without the ability to walk or even sit up. Nevertheless, he is an engaged, fun loving kid who takes a back seat to nobody in his love of camping and the outdoors. He has always been his happiest when outside. His favorite activity is swimming. Anyone who is at the campground beach or pool quickly know that Everett is there by his loud hollers of joy when my wife Michele or I take him in the water!

Everett also now enjoys bike rides on his new Duet Bike thanks to the Make A Wish foundation that was kind enough to furnish us with this spring. He loves it.

He has an older sister Meredith 10, and a younger sister Heather, 5. They both eagerly count down the days to our next camping trip.

I would encourage and family that has a member with a disability to give camping a try if you haven’t already. It can be great fun for the whole family creating wonderful lifelong memories.We camp in a pop up camper, and we often have 2 adults and 5 kids when we take nieces and/or nephews. Most of the time, we have a large tarp set up if there’s any chance of rain. I like to go to the campground ahead of time- sometimes the night before, and return home the same night, so everything is ready when the family arrives.

If you have a family member with a disability, I strongly recommend doing some advance scouting before booking a trip. How level are the roads? If they’re not paved, are they firm enough for a wheelchair? How easy is it to get into the pool area, or down to the beach? State Park campgrounds typically have handicapped sites, near the bathrooms, but they may not be the site you’re looking for. Do your homework to ensure your camping trip is a successful one. Never book a trip based on a brochure or a website, you really need to see it in person.

Peter and Michele and their three very happy campers at
Harold Parker State Forest.
We camp at Harold Parker State Forest in Andover a couple of long weekends a year, and we like the deep forest setting and large sites. Everett’s two sisters love the playground, and the roads are fairly level for taking Everett on his bike rides. At Harold Parker, we like sites 74, which is an accessible, large and level, mostly free of roots site near the bathroom, and the field is right behind it. Site 66 is a management site which can’t be reserved, but it is next to the playground, and is a flat, large wooded site and a favorite of ours when we can get it.

If I think bugs are going to be bad, I set up a screen house. (camping in early and late in the season is great, because we don’t have to worry about bugs with Everett - he can’t protect himself from them.) We also have a hat with side flaps that we spray with repellent with DEET to keep them away from his face, and of course spray his clothes when they’re really out. This is all necessary only at dusk generally.

We also camp at NH, MA and VT state parks, and a couple of campgrounds in ME – Papoose Pond and Cathedral Pines. Our favorite campgrounds are Lorraine Campground in Harold Parker State Forest, Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown, NH, Mt. Ascutney State Park and Wilgus State Park in VT the fall.

Read more about these campground options and get Peter's contact info by clicking "Read More"!

Rustic Appalachian Mountain Club Facility Goes Green - and Accessible!

The modernized accessible bath house at Noble View.
I've been hearing about Noble View for years now. It is an 350+ acre outdoor center in the Berkshires that is surrounded by 117,000 more acres of forest, rivers, and rural solitude reminiscent of times gone by. Situated high on a hillside in Russell, MA with breathtaking views of the Pioneer Valley, Noble View is owned by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) and managed by volunteers. I just found out that an 8 year accessibility project has recently been completed, making Noble View an exciting new option for outdoor enthusiasts with disabilities.

Two cottages and a bath house have been upgraded to make them ADA accessible and feature green technologies. A farmhouse and campsites are also available. Hiking, nature study, and winter activities are some of the activities enjoyed on 34 miles of trails. Keep in mind that staff are on site only for scheduled events - otherwise it is self service. It sounds like a great place to go if you are independent or with a group. I think you probably need your own recreational equipment.

Outdoor Explorations, a Medford-based accessible recreation organization, uses Noble View for their outdoor programs. "Noble View is one of the few places in Massachusetts that can fully accommodate our outdoor trips for significantly disabled children and adults, so when we use Noble View, accessible outdoor recreation and lodging is never a worry," said Merri Pearson, Executive Director of Outdoor Explorations, a nonprofit offering outdoor activities to people of all abilities. "We've greatly enjoyed our trips there and our participants love to go snowshoeing, sledding, hiking, and kayaking in the nearby areas. Plus Noble View's green features are perfect for helping to support our teaching of environmental stewardship principles."

For information about Noble View, including a trail map, suggested hikes and walks, and area attractions, visit For reservations, contact the registrar at 413-572-4501 or email

I have to make my way to Noble View!! If you get there before me, let me know how you like it!