Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Kids and Kites on Ice!

Ice skating is a perennial favorite among winter activities that is growing in popularity as an adaptive recreation opportunity in Massachusetts state-owned rinks. Many rinks now house a couple of ice sleds for people with mobility impairments to use during public skating. The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) also offers adaptive ice skating programs, in which the entire ice is reserved for use by people with disabilities and their families and friends. Over the years this has become a popular "come-as-you-are" program, with skaters using wheelchairs, walkers, ice sleds and regular ice skates to enjoy time on the ice. Over and over we find that being on ice inspires play!

We offer a variety of game elements at DCR Universal Access skating programs when we have full use of the rink. Balls of all sizes and pucks can be knocked into nets. Foam blocks are built into crash towers and re-stacked again. Orange cones are placed in slalom patterns. Often there are impromptu hockey games. It is amazing to see how skating skills improve when a game is involved! The skater's attention goes outward, beyond the sense of awkwardness and inability, to focus on a ball or puck, enabling them to improve sometimes without realizing it.

A recent inspiration for our adaptive skating programs is the addition of kites, which add a whole new sense of color and movement. We've been experimenting with kites on ice as a program element and it is a lot of fun for skaters of all ages!

This activity is best with plenty of open space on the ice. Outdoors it won't work if trees are close by, otherwise the sky's the limit! At our indoor programs it works best when attendance is on the low side, and of course, the ceiling requires careful flying technique.

Our typical kite flight involves someone skating backwards with a kite, which generates enough breeze to give lift to lightweight kites. A good skater can avoid mishap while keeping the kite at an appropriate height by setting a string length with one hand holding the line winder and using the other hand to pull in or release a small amount of line as needed. Power wheelchair users can lift kites easily if they have reasonable traction, but may not be able to view the kite in the air themselves. Such flights serve as a colorful element for others to enjoy, both on and off the ice.

We found out last week that kids on skates can handle small kites pretty easily. They seem to appreciate the novelty of trying two different activities together. I noticed kids improving their agility and speed, learning to look backward and forward and monitor their movement in space.

Kids in sleds being pushed can expand their sense of space by watching kites, following them, and having a kite flown with them. I have found it quite easy to control the height and flight pattern of longer kites as well as simple ones, to avoid skaters and give selected participants a closer encounter.

So far we've had no kite flying collisions, entanglements, cut string or kites caught on the ceiling. Kite flights last just a few minutes usually. The visual display of a kite in flight seems to inspire the level of attention necessary for sighted people to avoid them. Precautions should be taken if anyone on the ice has a visual impairment.

If you are looking for some uplifting color in late winter and have access to ice, try flying kites!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Blue Hills Trailside Museum - Fully Accessible!

A vintage sign at the entrance to outdoor wildlife exhibits.

Looking for an inclusive and satisfying outing in the Boston area? The Blue Hills Trailside Museum is a great place to visit with family, friends or solo to connect with nature. I stopped in last week before the big snowstorm to check out the accessible outdoor trail through native wildlife exhibits. It was a real treat to connect with live animals there in the middle of winter!

Especially the river otter! On this crisp sunny day, she was busy swimming. I marveled at her swift and fluid grace in water and her awkward gait on land. She criss-crossed her pool repeatedly, flipping over backwards at the shore and swimming upside down back across, occasionally popping up and over floating tree trunk root systems. River otters are truly delightful animals, though you'll notice a strong fishy odor in their presence.

A female otter pauses while exercising in an outdoor pool.

Other animals you can visit outdoors at Blue Hills Trailside Museum are white-tailed deer, red-tailed hawks, a turkey vulture, great-horned owl and snowy owl. A pond alongside the museum is a haven for waterfowl and well-stocked bird feeders guarantee the presence of birds.

The routes to these exhibits are now more easily navigable by visitors with visual impairments thanks to Massachusetts Audubon's recent additions of a guide rope system with Braille and large print signage. An audio tour can be downloaded from their website year round and can also be accessed on site by cell phone or MP3 player. The audio tour is a great way for anyone to enhance their experience and learn more about the local wildlife. Though the area outside the museum is on a hillside, all the slopes meet accessibility standards and there are alternate routes to stairways. Kudos to Massachusetts Audubon for such a successful access improvement!

Wooden beads indicate stops along the guide rope trail.

Inside the museum, exhibits take you through the habitats of the Blue Hills, from lowlands to the summit. Carefully crafted and enchantingly displayed, information is easy to understand and presented in multidimensional ways. More live animals are inside, including a screech owl, kestrel, opossum, skunk, rare snakes and a beehive. Again, there is a guided system for those with visual impairments enhanced with audio sounds and tactile opportunities at nearly every turn that kids will love too.

Massachusetts Audubon offers an array of educational programs for all ages. Bird of prey presentations are a regular favorite. There is a fee for most programs I saw advertised, though some are free to members. Don't miss the annual Maple Sugar Festival coming up March 9-10!

For more information, visit

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Ski and Para Triathlon Opportunities for Southern New Englanders

The Sports Association of the Gaylord Hospital in Connecticut has some great recreation opportunities coming up for those who live in southern New England. They are a Paralympic Sports Club and a chapter of Disabled Sports. Call 203-284-2772 for more info and to register for any of these programs.

On February 13th, there will be a free adaptive cross country skiing and snowshoeing program at Winding Trails in Farmington, Connecticut from 1-3pm.

There are three upcoming adaptive downhill ski trips! These trips are only $40! You must call at least 2 weeks in advance to register!

February 9 - Mt. Snow, Vermont
February 23 -  Mt. Bromley, Vermont
March 16 - Mt. Sunapee, New Hampshire

If you are a new or experienced hard core athlete, consider training to compete in a sprint Para Triathlon in September. The Sports Association is teaming up with the Greater Hartford YMCA and will be sponsoring several athletes and at least one relay team of three athletes. Paperwork must be submitted by March 1 so don't hesitate to call 203-284-2772 if you are interested.

Photos courtesy of the Sports Association.