Universal Challenge

Making challenge courses accessible and usable for all

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This photo shows a man wearing a helmet and sun glasses‚ as he pulls on a handlebar to raise himself up to the high challenge element.
What is Challenge?

> participant: what is challenge?

What is Challenge?

“Tell me‚ I’ll forget. Show me‚ I may remember. But involve me, and I’ll understand.”

- Chinese Proverb

What is Challenge Education?

Challenge Education is an action-oriented methodology that utilizes elements of risk taking, problem solving, and purposeful reflection to enable individuals to learn and grow from experiences. Its theoretical principles are based on the philosophy of Experiential Education, which proposes engaging learners in the educational process, promoting a hands on approach, and stimulating authentic thoughts and reflections in order to promote effective learning.

What are Challenge Courses?

This photo shows a challenge course facilitator giving a participant a boost onto the first foot holds of the accessible climbing tower.
A challenge course participant is given a boost onto the accessible climbing tower by a challenge course facilitator. (Photo by Bradford Woods.)

Challenge courses are made up of a series of structures or elements that are built in order to challenge participants physically, emotionally and mentally. These structures can be built close to the ground (low course) or stand high above the ground (high course), and are mostly constructed on trees, poles or metal structures. Challenge courses are typically built outdoors, but indoor courses are becoming increasingly popular because people can use them year round.

What is Universal Challenge?

Over the course of the last decade the needs of people with disabilities gained unprecedented attention in both a broad range of public and private services and programs. The challenge course has industry also experienced tremendous growth and has become more diverse in the programs they provide and the people they serve. In order to meet the needs of a greater number of participants, challenge programmers have had to reevaluate the way the actual courses are built and the way that the programs are designed and implemented.

In this photo a professional challenge course facilitator sits in his wheelchair as he uses a hip belay system.
A professional facilitator uses a hip belay system to ensure the safety of a program participant. (Photo by Bradford Woods)

Many challenge programs across the country have risen to the task of providing courses that are useable by all people and to design programs that allow people of all abilities to successfully participate. This is the concept of Universal Design. Ron Mace defines Universal Design as ‚ "the design of products and environments to be usable by all people‚to the greatest extent possible‚ without the need for adaptation or specialized design‚" (Cited in Preise & Ostrof‚ 2001).

This video clip shows a participant climbing the tower at Bradford Woods with the assistance of a facilitator climbing in tandem.  Video courtesy of Bradford Woods.
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This video clip shows a participant climbing the tower at Bradford Woods with the assistance of a facilitator climbing in tandem. Video courtesy of Bradford Woods.

Universal design of challenge courses shapes not only the physical design of the challenge elements but also the physical environment‚ staff training‚ support structures and program design. A program that is universally designed creates a broadly inclusive environment that transcends disability rather than compensating for the lack of ability and can address a multitude of program and participant goals.

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