Is climbing accessible to people with disabilities? Yes, absolutely. Britain boasts a paraclimbing world champion, an amputee Mountain Leader and a qualified climbing wall instructor with cerebral palsy. Above all, it’s a really supportive community for those wishing to try out the sport.
Climbing, hill walking and mountaineering are activities that are incredibly fulfilling as well as physically and mentally demanding. People of all ages, abilities and backgrounds can enjoy these activities and disability needn’t be seen as a barrier to participation.
With a wide range of activities, from indoor climbing to mountaineering, there’s plenty of scope to find an activity that suits you. Many people climb purely for recreation and fitness, while others choose to compete or even make it their job.
As the representative body for climbers, hill walkers and mountaineers in England and Wales, the BMC has an Equity Steering Group which works to remove any barriers to participation and is also implementing a Disability Action Plan.
The BMC supports providers of climbing-related activities to be inclusive of disabilities. We have helped to produce two booklets – ‘Climbing for all: disability awareness in rock climbing’ and ‘Walking for all: disability awareness in walking’ and in 2013 we hosted a BMC Disability Symposium at the Lake District Calvert Trust specialist outdoor centre.
To enable climbers to meet and compete against others with disabilities, the BMC runs an annual competition called the BMC Paraclimbing Series. There are eight different categories covering limb loss and impairment, sensory impairment, learning difficulties, emotional and behavioural difficulties, ADHD and Autistic Spectrum Condition.
GB Paraclimbing Team – inspiring successes
It’s really early days in the development of paraclimbing, however, the GB Paraclimbing Team already has a world champion – BMC ambassador Fran Brown. GB Paraclimbing Team manager Graeme Hill says “It’s absolutely fantastic to see disabled climbers having the opportunity to step into the competition arena at such a high level. The GB Team won an impressive six medals at this year’s World Paraclimbing Championships. A number of the disability categories need higher numbers but the growth of the sport is very exciting.” You can follow the GB Climbing Team on Twitter.
Through the work of ice climbing ace Andy Turner, interest is also growing in the sport of ice climbing and dry tooling and there are positive steps to set up a GB para ice-climbing team.
Reaching great heights
A number of climbers with disabilities have gone on to achieve qualifications which enable them to lead others in the mountains or instruct indoors. Nik Royale, a climber with progressive cerebral palsy, set himself the personal target of passing his Climbing Wall Award which means he is now qualified to instruct others at an indoor climbing wall. He has also climbed to the summit of Tryfan in North Wales.
Quadruple amputee Jamie Andrew gained his Mountain Leader after losing both hands and feet. Jamie said: “Becoming a Mountain Leader seemed out of the question. But over the years I have trained myself to always question limiting self-beliefs…Everyone involved in my training and assessment was extremely open and helpful in finding ways to overcome the obstacles I faced.” Jamie was one of the organisers behind Scotland's first paraclimb competitions - read more on BBC Sport.
How do I get into climbing?
Back to the excitement of being a beginner, what are the first steps to get into climbing? Give the BMC a ring on 0161 445 6111. As mentioned earlier, the BMC has got an Equity Steering Group which has provided a great deal of knowledge around disability providing the BMC with the tools to answer a much broader set of questions.
Many walls and providers are now much more accessible either through their own initiative or by attending the Climbing for All course. The BMC’s domestic paraclimbing series is a completely open event. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t climbed before, you can still enter. Coaching for disabled people is also on the increase.
You can find a specialist activity centre for people with disabilities on the Adventure for All website.
It is also worth keeping an eye here on the BMC website, BMC TV, Twitter and Facebook where we post information and videos relating specifically to disability events.
Whichever way you choose, welcome you to the world of climbing!
This article was orignally written by the BMC for Momentum magazine. See pages 16-18 of issue 3 where you'll also find a biography of BMC Ambassador Fran Brown.
Watch: a portrait of Fran Brown on BMC TV:
Watch an inspirational short film about visually impaired British paraclimber Rad Breeze on BMC TV:
Watch paraclimber Dave Bowes bouldering at Craig y Longridge on BMC TV:
Watch one-legged paraclimber Phill Mitchell try climbing on Peak gritstone on BMC TV:
Watch the BMC Disability Symposium 2013 on BMC TV:
Watch Jamie Andrew climb the Matterhorn in The Limbless Mountaineer on BMC TV:
Watch the BMC Paraclimbing Series 2013 on BMC TV: