Saturday, January 28, 2012

Adaptive Ice Skating Techniques

Winter is wimping out on us so far this season. Thank goodness we can always resort to ice skating indoors! Ice skating provides an amazingly fun way for everyone to play, despite any fears of cold or falling. With more attention on this activity, we are embellishing our techniques for supporting skaters with disabilities on the ice. Here are our favored methods:

Assistive Skaters
One or more skilled ice skaters can easily assist a new skater with or without props. All Out Adventures shares some of their techniques on this video, which also shows skating on an ice sled.

This is a home-made item using PVC pipe, glue and sometimes even screws. It is meant to serve as a balance aid, not to support full weight all of the time. We like to see people wear helmets when using these and work towards independent use if possible. If you make your own skatewalker, we highly recommend 1" pipe. We find 1 1/4" to be less strong and more likely to break. Can be made at varying heights. Users should grip midway along the upper side sections to ensure stability.

Gait or Transfer Belt
This standard item is a great aid for stand skaters, especially anyone for whom falling is not recommended due to fragility or a previous injury. The transfer belt has handles all the way around, allowing quick assistance when needed without invading personal space. Multiple skaters can more easily support a skater to stay more upright.

Portable Folding Ramps and Carpet
One or two three foot ramps are incredibly helpful for wheelchair access to the ice. They can be screwed into the threshold for stability. We like to add a short length of carpet coming out from under the ramp to provide a stable transitional spot for anyone who needs it. The end of the carpet can be "glued down" with some water, which quickly freezes it to the ice. This set up allows people using power chairs especially to get enough traction to come back off the ice.

Ice Grippers
This is of course not technically skating. In some of our programs we invite people on the ice "as they are" from power chair users to non-skaters, creating a near totally inclusive environment. Where rinks allow street shoes, those who truly wish to avoid skates can - using slip-on Yak Trax or other ice gripping devices - while tending to family members or clients, and enjoying the play experience on the ice. The use of ice grippers provides vital support to people assisting individuals using ventilators who have other especially sensitive needs.

Look closely to see the anti-tippers on each sled.

Ice Sled anti-tippers
We get our ice sleds from Unique Inventions in Ontario, a small company that supplies sled hockey equipment. They will custom fabricate sleds to order. We set our blades wide apart for extra stability and add anti-tippers to the backs of the blades under the seat, to prevent sled users from tipping over backwards by accident. Its a piece of aluminum rod that extends back from the blade above the ice and acts as a brace.

Ice Sled seat add-on
A jacket serves as a cover for
a personal seating device strapped
to the ice sled.
Some wheelchair users can transfer their seating devices right onto the sled. This works especially well for kids who need their usual or custom seating support. A few extra straps can help secure such items to the sled. Pieces of foam can be taped on or simply inserted under the legs as shown to provide additional support and protection from the cold beneath. We also have extra "chest straps" available to provide additional torso support for those who may need it on sleds with higher seat backs.

Ice Sled outrigger prototype
We are in the process of developing an added piece to act as an outrigger to prevent tipping sideways. Although falling down is an expected part of ice skating, some sled skaters really need to not tip over.

Ice Sled grip sticks
For those who have difficulty with grip and can move their arms, we staple or bolt adjustable straps to the sled sticks. These allow the palm of the hand to be more secure against the stick and the heel of the hand a place to push down for self propulsion.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Take Advantage of State Park Programs to Explore Winter in Massachusetts

Frank Grindrod (left) provides tracking
expertise for a Universal Access outing.
 Now that there is a little snow on the ground, animal tracks and trails are visible! Last weekend I found signs of coyote, gray fox, fisher, snowshoe hare, deer, mink and weasel on a hike in the woods, along with small birds, squirrels, mice and voles. Its a great time to get in touch with local wildlife, which often can be found not far from areas of human habitation. Our Universal Access Program yesterday at the D.A.R. State Forest in the Berkshires gave winter adventurers a good look at coyote and red fox tracks along the the trail.

The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation offers education programs year round in state parks. Park programs offer a wonderful chance to learn about nature and the outdoors for people of all ages and abilities. Here's a few of the most noteworthy and relatively accessible opportunities coming up - featuring wildlife in eastern Massachusetts and a taste of culture in the Berkshires!

Boston Area:
Even dog tracks (left) provide an opportunity
to study how animals move and how tracks
change as snow ages. Human boot
print on right.

Breakheart Reservation, Saugus

January 28 and February 18 - Nature's Mysteries - 10-11am and 1-2pm. Join ranger Matt Nash in the fully accessible Christopher P. Dunne Visitor Center for a children's learning experience about the lives of animals. Pre-registration required - contact or call 781-485-2804 extension 105 to sign up.

January 29 - Winter Tracking Hike - 1:30-3:30pm. Join expert tracker naturalist David Brown in search of wildlife signs. We may discover the trails of the coyote, fisher, deer, otter, and other animals normally associated with distant wilderness. Two miles or less will be covered at a slow pace. Please dress for the weather and wear sturdy footwear. Please call 781-233-0834 to pre-register and inquire about access. The visitor center is fully accessible but this hike is probably best for those who are ambulatory.

Belle Isle Marsh Reservation, East Boston

February 11 - Winter Tracking Hike - 9-10:30am. Join reservation staff for a walk in search of animal tracks and signs in this wetland environment. No visitor center or restrooms on site, but the trails are quite accessible depending on winter conditions. Call 781-485-2804 to pre-register and for specific info.

Wompatuck State Park, Hingham

February 21 - Tracks, Scats and Nests - 9-10:30am. See listing for Borderland State Park below - and be aware that there is a 2" dip in the concrete near the front door of the visitor center at Wompatuck State Park, otherwise the center is wheelchair accessible. Please call (508) 866-2580 x 163 for more information.

Southeast & Cape Cod:

Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Waquoit

February 4 - Coyote/Coywolf Ecology and Behavior - 2-3:30pm. Jonathan Way, Ph.D., is the leader of the Eastern Coyote/Coywolf Project in Massachusetts. Hes part of a team that has recently investigated the eastern coyote's genetics, finding that the animals are coyote and red wolf hybrids, and proposes to call them coywolves due to their mixed species origin. His talk will focus on his team's genetic findings as well as the ecology and behavior of coywolves in urban/suburban settings. Meet at Reserve Visitor Center, 149 Waquoit Highway (Rt.28), Waquoit, MA. Reasonable accommodations are available upon request. Co-sponsored by the Friends of the Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge. For information, call (508) 457-0495.

Borderland State Park, N. Easton

February 21 - Tracks, Scats and Nests - 1-2:30pm. Animal signs tell stories if we know how to read them. Watch a 45 minute interactive slide show in the Visitor Center and guess who made the signs. Afterwards, we will enjoy a short excursion outdoors at a gentle pace searching for wildlife and the signs they left behind for us to discover. Please dress in warm clothes and winter boots. Program meets at the Visitor Center at 259 Massapoag Street in N. Easton. Rain, snow storm, or very icy conditions will cancel the hiking portion of the program. Please call (508) 866-2580 x 163 for more information. Program is free; there is a $2.00 per car parking fee, unless you have a handicapped placard.


Western Gateway Heritage State Park, North Adams

Winter Global Theatre - Global theatre venues from around the world, for all ages. All performances at 10am. For more info, call 413-663-6312.

January 14 - Kamishibai - Japanese Paper Theatre
January 21 - Shadow Theatre
January 28 - Noh Puppet Theatre

Click here for other intriguing programs in the Visitor Center in the month of January.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Get Ready for the Holyoke Winter Carnival!

We are desperate for snow in southern New England, although I have to admit not having snow sure makes life easier! Outdoor snow sports are suffering - even the outdoor ice is marginal. Let's hope conditions improve so we can break out of our indoor rinks and enjoy some snow soon. In the mean time, hiking adventures and outdoor skating on man-made ice will have to suffice.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Janet Zeller - Forest Service Advocate for Access

Janet paddling in Utah.
Janet Zeller is the National Accessibility Manager for the U.S. Forest Service - a woman with a severe disability and enormous enthusiasm for helping others access the great outdoors. Although we had met long ago, she remembered me when we crossed paths again this fall at a conference. The warmth of her personality and her vibrant energy for the work she does leaves me with a glow that continues to inspire the work I do. She's been traveling extensively this fall, presenting at conferences and conducting trainings, so it was only recently we were able to speak on the phone in preparation for this post.

"Outdoor recreation was my lifeblood," she said, "my sanity. I grew up with the idea that you work so you can recreate." Her childhood summers were spent in the White Mountains with her family, in a big cottage built in 1890 that served as a wonderful base camp for outings. She became an avid canoeist and had just learned to sea kayak before her injury. Her first career was as an elementary school supervising librarian, a "hazardous occupation", she emphasized with a laugh, in which she became quadriplegic after a serious fall in the school building.