Universal Challenge

Making challenge courses accessible and usable for all

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In this photo‚ a young man pushes his wheelchair up an incline beam to a platform.  The young man has a person on each side of his wheelchair and one person walking behind his chair‚ all are working as safety spotters.
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Universal Challenge Programming


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Universal Challenge Programming & Population Considerations

Before facilitating an experience‚ it is a good idea to talk with all participants‚ on the group and individual levels‚ about their needs in any given situation. It is particularly important when working with a participant with a disability. Let them decide‚ based on legitimate choices‚ how they want to do something and what kind of help or support they may need or want throughout the experience.

People with physical disabilities:

Mobility is typically the primary limitation for people with physical disabilities.

Please consider:

This photo shows a participant transferring from his wheelchair to the padded platform of a low challenge course activity.  The facilitator and another participant are acting as safety spotters during the transfer.
A challenge participant transfers from his wheelchair to the platform of a low challenge activity while a facilitator and another participant act as safety spotters.
  • The location of the element or activity and the time it will take to get from one place to the next. Also consider the amount of time it may take to accomplish the activity.
  • The environment of the location – is it flat or rocky? Is there grass or woodchips? The type of environment will affect the ability of someone to maneuver well.
  • That some people with physical disabilities may use assistive mobility devices like wheelchairs‚ walkers‚ etc. Please discuss with the participant how to use or relocate these devices when not in use and what assistance transferring back and forth from the challenge course itself.
  • That temperature can be an issue for people who have decreased sensation. Please be aware of how cold or hot it is (both the weather & equipment) and how to make sure the individual can protect themselves from the elements.
  • The equipment to be used during an activity and how it may fit with the participant. For example‚ extra padding may be needed in different areas of the harness to protect the participant (if this is needed‚ make sure it fits the standards of the equipment) or a participant may need additional padding like knee or elbow pads … this can benefit other participants as well.

People with cognitive disabilities

Please remember as with any disability that cognitive disabilities range greatly in difference from one person to the next. Cognitive disabilities may be the effect of an injury or an illness. Find out how the disability affects the individual.

Please consider:

  • That explanations might need to be broken down into smaller parts to aid in processing and understanding. Give only a few directions at a time.
  • When explaining safety rules you may need to explain why it is that they need to follow these rules to give a more concrete understanding.
  • That directions and goals may need to be repeated – directions or goals can be repeated by the participant back to the facilitator to show the level of understanding and memory. This can also help to keep everyone engaged.
  • Having activities to keep participants engaged when they are not directly involved in specific task or activity.

People with hearing Impairments

People with hearing impairments have different levels of hearing ability. Please do not shout and use exaggerated words to speak as it can only make it harder for a person to understand. Find out how the hearing impairment affects the individual.

Please consider:

  • Background noise - decrease this if possible.
  • Placing yourself‚ as a facilitator so that the participants are not squinting into the sun. This will help those who lip read to see you clearly – with this please make sure you are not covering your mouth or turning your head away.
  • Using visual cues‚ gestures or diagrams when applicable.
  • Speaking directly to the participant and NOT their interpreter. This is common courtesy and the participant may be trying to read your lips and body language.
  • Helping others in the group use the same considerations when speaking and communicating – do this either as a pr–training with fellow staff or as a group including the participant(s) that has this need.

People with visual Impairments

People with visual impairments have various levels of sight. Find out how the visual impairment affects the individual. It could create nearsighted or farsightedness. It could create tunnel vision‚ cataracts or effect one eye. There are many ways that this could affect someone.

Please consider:

  • The surroundings and environment – limit obstacles or change areas that could be inhibiting if possible (i.e. low hanging branches‚ multiple tree roots‚ large rocks‚ bodies of water‚ etc.) Many times these are things we cannot change – if this is the case please explain to the individual where these obstacles may be‚ if needed.
  • Placing yourself‚ as the facilitator‚ so that the participants are not squinting into the sun when watching you explain an activity or when working with the group.
  • Explaining what the element looks like and where certain items are located (i.e. handholds‚ ropes‚ edges of a platform‚ etc.)
  • A tandem (buddy) climb, if climbing, so the individual can shadow movements. Utilizing a well-lit area. If it is nighttime please allow for flexibility of using a flashlight or some type of light source.

People with learning disabilities

Remember we all learn in very different ways. Some learn better visually‚ verbally‚ written‚ participatory‚ by observing‚ etc. Some learn faster than others and some need to practice a few times before they learn a concept or task. Remembering this will help out when working with someone with a learning disability. A learning disability can affect the way someone reads‚ writes‚ processes information‚ etc. Find out how the learning disability affects the individual.

Please consider:

  • Mixing up your ways of teaching & facilitating (i.e. journaling‚ visual-pictures‚ allowing for participants to teach fellow participants). Do not be afraid to try something new.
  • Breaking down directions and repeating as necessary – ask participants to repeat directions.
  • Having patience‚ allow for participants to try a couple times if necessary.
  • Limiting outside distractions if possible.

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