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Ropes courses for all: creating a universally accessible challenge program.

The time for universal concepts and inclusion in ropes courses has arrived. While not every camp can meet every inclusion need, every camp director can begin to incorporate universal concepts into their camp's challenge activities. Imagine a team of campers working together to help each other to balance on a platform that tilts in all four directions. Now imagine the same team - one blindfolded, one in a wheelchair, and one not permitted to talk - trying to accomplish the same task. Whether simulating disabilities or including campers with actual disabilities, you can develop low and high ropes courses that are accessible to everyone.

Adapting Your Low Ropes Course

Low ropes course elements can be adapted to universal design by using additional spotters, making minor construction changes, or utilizing specialized equipment. Research has found that sixteen modifications to low ropes elements are currently being used or developed for use in camps.

The Nitro or Prouty's landing

A commonly modified ropes element is the Nitro or Prouty's landing, where a team of participants hold a rope and swing across to a platform or landing area. Modifications include using a mechanical advantage pulley system that lifts wheelchair participants in full body harnesses and allows them to swing across to the landing using a swinging or traversing platform, a rope chat, or using a rope with a rubber stabilizer in the bottom of a loop to hold the loop open and provide for easier foot removal.

Tension traverse element

A tension traverse element is easily modified by the use of a cable chair with outriggers to help stabilize a seated participant. A rope attached to the back of the chair will allow a partner or team to pull the chair while the seated participant maintains their balance. The cable chair can be used by campers without disabilities; the challenges of maintaining balance and working with a team remain the same.

Other universal designs

Other examples of elements designed for use by populations with disabilities include a maze with wide chutes to accommodate wheelchairs. Impaired ambulation obstacle courses with ramps/tracks of various inclines and declines, swinging tracks/platforms, ridged tracks, platform teeter-totters, and a burma bridge with an attachable mat provide additional challenges.

Modifying Your High Course

For several years Bridges, a leader in the development of universally accessible ropes courses, has used mechanical advantage systems to create access to high ropes course elements. The system can be adjusted from a 2:1 to a 5:1 advantage. A 5:1 advantage system, which allows you to exert one fifth the force for five times the distance of rope travel, is preferred for high ropes due to its versatility. A 2:1 pulley system requires one half the pulling force, but the rope must travel twice the distance a standard climb would take. Combine a mechanical advantage system with ascenders, and climbers using a 5:1 advantage system can easily pull themselves up to any high element. Climbers may also be hoisted by a team to an element, or a team may give a "boost" to a climber.

The Eagle

This technique is also used when climbers ascend to the Eagle, an accessible chair designed by Bridges to enable physically challenged climbers to use most wire high ropes elements. The chair rests on four steel wheels that are locked onto the cable. There is a stabilizing wire running from the back of the chair to a two-wheel pulley attached to the belay cable. Once climbers are in the chair, they are secured into place with a seatbelt.

The Jay seat

Bridges also uses a Jay seat, a gel-pack seat that is attached like a harness and protects the person's buttocks from abrasion. When combined with the advantage system to ascend, climbers can participate in a catwalk element by sitting on the log and lifting their bodies up and moving sideways or sliding.

Universally Speaking

Bridges has moved beyond modifying high ropes courses and is now developing a universal ropes course that will be fully wheelchair accessible and can accommodate anyone. A 42-foot climbing wall and zipline system, which minimize shock to the body at initial takeoff, have already been built.

The Easter Seal Society has used the specially designed zipline for four years, enabling more than 400 participants with varied and extreme disabilities to experience something that most non-disabled individuals will never know. Following the experience, Brian Bost, president/CEO of the Easter Seal Society of the Inland Counties, wrote, "[The campers'] personal self-confidence and self-esteem went so high it was off the charts."

A Growing, Untapped Market

Camps practicing universal concepts are experiencing full capacity and often have waiting lists. The disabled population in the United States is more than 54 million. Discretionary income for people with disabilities is $176 billion. According to the Society for the Advancement of Travel for the Handicapped, individuals with disabilities spent $81.7 billion on travel in 1995. Universal concepts in ropes courses would allow the disabled population, their families, friends, and caregivers, the opportunity to participate in a residential setting.

These camps can also serve older Americans seeking a challenge. Senior citizens currently make up 13 percent of the population and are easily served with universal accessibility. Fifty-five to sixty-four-year-olds have the greatest wealth and the most discretionary time of all age groups. Forty-five to fifty-four-year-olds have the highest income of all age groups. This market represents more than $150 billion per year in discretionary income.

Now is the time to adapt your ropes course to meet the needs of individuals of all abilities. Universal accessibility can provide opportunities for campers and adults whether disabled or not - to learn communication skills and gain self-confidence.

RELATED ARTICLE: Bridges Connections

If your camp doesn't currently include campers with special needs, basic initiatives can be adapted to raise a level of appreciation about disabilities. A unique activity called Bridges Connections can open communication about special needs and teach campers to include every child equally.

Campers are divided into teams, and some members are given a temporary disability - for example, rubber bands around fingers, feet tied together, arm tied to the body, or a wheelchair - before beginning the activity. Using an 18-inch long plastic channel with a quarter- to half-inch-wide groove, the team passes a marble over the given distance. In doing the exercise, the group will often exclude or minimize the involvement of a person with a disability, whether the disability is temporary for the activity or not. The activity makes readily apparent the challenge of communication and meeting everyone's needs and can open all participants' eyes to the way individuals often treat people with disabilities.

For more information on Bridges, visit their Web site (www.pineknot.com/~bridges/index.html).

Karyn Martin is a site principal for an Orange County Outdoor Science School in Big Bear Lake, California.

Bob Fulton is the founder of Bridges and a ropes course and adaptive equipment designer and builder. He also runs workshops on empathic skills and consults on course modification to attain universal concepts.

The low course modifications suggested in this article were found through research conducted by Heidi Holm, a middle school physical education teacher and ropes course modification and accessibility consultant who is pursuing her master's degree.
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Title Annotation:for camps
Author:Fulton, Bob
Publication:Camping Magazine
Date:Mar 1, 1999
Words:1207
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