Universal Challenge

Making challenge courses accessible and usable for all

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This is a photo of a young man pushing 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

"Universal design is 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."

- Ron Mace

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 industry has also experienced tremendous growth. Challenge courses have become more diverse the programs they provide and in the people they serve. In order to meet the needs of a greater number of participants, challenge courses have had to reevaluate the way the actual courses are built and the way that challenge programs are designed and implemented.

This photo shows two men working together to get through an obstacle course.  One man is blind-folded and pushing his partner in a wheelchair through a maze.
Two participants work together to get through a maze of objects.

While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 did not specify guidelines for challenge courses, it does mandate reasonable accommodations for people who have disabilities to access recreation programs and services in a manner that is non-segregating. Current standards in challenge course design and programming were created by the Association for Experiential Education (AEE) and the Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT) in order to not only meet this mandate but to surpass it and to provide a way for individuals of all abilities to successfully participate in challenge course opportunities.

Many challenge programs across the country have risen to the task of providing courses that are usable by all people and to design programs that allow people of all abilities to successfully participate in them. This is the concept of Universal Design. "Universal design creates a broadly inclusive environment that effectively blends a variety of design concepts‚ including accessible‚ into a range of meaningful options for all users. In a universally designed program it is not evident that modifications have been made for a specific person or group (Rogers‚ 2000)."

Universal design of challenge courses shapes not only the physical design of the challenge elements but also the design of program delivery. 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.

For the purposes of this website we will discuss the concept of universal design. But we will not get into challenge course design itself as this should be left to the designers and installation experts. It is important to keep in mind that having a universally designed challenge course will serve the greatest number of participants as it exceeds accessibility and inclusion mandates and creates options within individual high and low elements that extend the range of challenge to include those participants who may need or want a lower level of difficulty in order to engage in the experience within the group (Roger‚ 2000‚ p. 4).



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