What does the future hold for people with disabilities wanting to climb, hill walk and go mountaineering? BMC volunteer and disability expert Graeme Hill looks into his crystal ball.
What opportunities exist for disabled people to participate in walking, climbing and mountaineering?
Britain has probably got some of the best disability outdoor activity providers in the world. Bendrigg Trust, Redridge and Calvert Trust have been providing activities for disabled people to a very high standard for many years. These centres do provide day activities but the majority of their custom is residential.
Greater opportunity for disabled people accessing clubs, non-residential and coaching opportunities needs to be developed The BMC is taking a stronger lead on this, coordinated through its Equity Steering Group which meets every 3 months at the BMC offices.
Mountain Training have also made big developments around disabled people getting into coaching and instructing such as Jamie Andrew who lost his feet and hands to frost bite becoming a Mountain Leader and Nik Royale who has Cerebral Palsy gaining the Climbing Wall Award.
What barriers do disabled people face with regards to the above activities and where do they come from?
Barriers can come in many different forms and these days tend to be more subtle rather than obvious. It is easy to identify that a door is too narrow for a wheelchair user but difficult to identify if one person is restricting the choices of a disabled person.
Outdoor activities are also commonly associated with being dangerous and so sometimes deemed unsuitable for disabled people to participate in. Outdoor activities can also be viewed as not being very accessible because they are up a rock face or on top of a mountain. There are other factors such as marketing and programme development. If disabled people are not considered part of core development then they will continue to be excluded.
What can be done to increase regular participation for disabled people?
The Paralympics were good because it raised awareness. Being with disabled people educates us. The key is not to make assumptions about what a person wants. We need to move away from trying to make decisions for disabled people and develop an environment where people can make their own choices.
Very often if a disabled person doesn’t go climbing that choice will have been made by somebody else, such as a parent, support manager or even the activity provider. We need to work on areas such as marketing, coaching programmes and role models. Too often disability programmes are more an afterthought rather than being part of core development.
How and why did you get involved in working with people with disabilities?
I worked at the Calvert Trust in the late 90’s and was hugely impressed with the standard of activity delivery and what the participants were getting from the experience but I wanted to explore what opportunities disabled people had to continue and develop in activities in exactly the same way a non disabled person may go to a wall each week or join a mountaineering club. I think being part of a club or doing activities with friends forms a really big part of our life and I strongly feel that disabled people should have the same opportunity.
People like Fran Brown and Sianagh Gallagher are raising the profile of paraclimbing at the moment. Is the competition element to climbing as accessible as for non-disabled athletes?
This is a really good question and the last few years have been really exciting. A barrier to participation not mentioned earlier is exposure to competition. Disabled people may have been excluded from the competition experience because it may be considered disruptive. It also has to be said that competition climbing for a disabled person may not be seen as accessible as something like wheelchair basketball for example. However this is changing very quickly.
As an example, nine countries put their names forward to host International Federation of Sports Climbing (IFSC) paraclimbing competitions in 2014. The BMC have done a tremendous job around developing events with the 2014 domestic series starting in March.
How can existing coaches and instructors get involved in working with disabled people? Is there any special training required?
I have always said that the best person to coach a disabled person is not a disability specialist but a coach. Once you have begun coaching a disabled person you see the person and not the disability. However to make those initial steps you might just need some reassurance or guidance.
Mountain Training has got a one day course called Climbing for All which takes you through theory and practical training. Adventure for All who oversees the Climbing for All recently became a Specialist Interest Group within The Institute of Outdoor Learning to raise the profile of disability training. You could also come along to the domestic para climbing competitions starting in March this year.
What have the BMC and Mountain Training done to improve the situation for people with disabilities?
Mountain Training have been involved in developments over a number of years. The Mountain Training approved workshop Climbing for All has been around for over 10 years. More recently, disability is becoming embedded into main delivery for example Climbing for All is delivered on Mountain Training Association workshop weekends and I was recently invited along to a Mountain Training course provider workshop.
As mentioned above there have also been a number of disabled people passing national governing body awards. The BMC has an Equity Steering Group which feeds into the National Council providing guidance on disability development. The BMC have also shown a commitment to publishing far more articles on disability. It would be good to see a more coordinated approach amongst the leading outdoor bodies for example IOL, ABC on developing a set of standards to promote good practice.
What opportunities are there for the future?
The work continues to grow at a fast pace. There are lots of discussions around how coaching disabled people can be embedded into the text of the Coaching Climbing syllabus. I am currently doing work with GB Junior Team Manager Ian Dunn.
Disability is very much an individual thing but I think it is important that there are more disabled people involved in decision making. Jamie Andrew has just offered to support the GB paraclimbing team, which we are very much looking forward to. GB paraclimber and BMC Ambassador Fran Brown regularly gets invited onto the seminar circuit. We also need to see more climbers coming forward so we can take on the French, Spanish, Italian and Japanese at international competitions!
This article is part of a series of articles celebrating Mountain Training’s 50th anniversary year in 2014.