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!!

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