Groups with special needs

  • Planning and preparation
  • Things to carry
  • Environmental factors
  • Accommodation
  • Activity and equipment modifications
  • Tent or roofed accommodation
  • Campfires and stoves
  • Walking
  • Skiing
  • Disabilities

While workplaces, accommodation and public facilities can be modified to maximise 'user friendliness' to those with special needs, outdoor settings are not so readily modified. Changes in weather, difficult terrain and inaccessibility all combine to form considerable risk factors to someone who might consider even a 5cm drop in floor level a serious obstacle. Yet despite the fears that some may have in attempting to undertake journeys in the snow and bush, the outdoors can be a fun and safe environment for those with special needs. Combine risk management with other essential 'ingredients' such as appropriate equipment, skills and sound judgement and the doors are wide open for participation.

Planning and preparation

All outdoor adventure activities require preparation. When you include participants with disabilities, the need for planning and preparation is much greater. Of vital importance is the assessment of the needs of each individual and adequate planning to ensure that these needs can be met. A prudent leader will also allow for needs which may not be so obvious. This might include allowing for forgotten or inappropriate equipment and considering the possibility of unexpected challenging behaviour.

It is not uncommon for certain individuals to have dramatic changes in behaviour when placed in a situation which is new, unfamiliar and potentially stressful. Considerably more time and effort can be spent by some participants in not just travelling over difficult terrain but also in daily routine tasks such as eating, dressing and toileting.

For any group, a leader should be aware of any ailments, disabilities or special needs of party members. Such information should be actively sought prior to the activity and treated with respect and confidentiality. In some circumstances, this information may have to be revealed to one or more staff or experienced party members, but only if necessary, and with consent. For example, it might be important for others such as a tent partner to be aware that a certain participant could have epileptic seizures under certain conditions.

For an overnight outing with a special needs group such as children with severe disabilities, it would be appropriate to share information such as emotional disposition and behaviour strategies with the carers who have a shared responsibility.

On a club day-walk where strangers often meet together for recreational and social purposes, it would be a breach of confidentiality to announce to the group that John suffered from a nervous breakdown last year and is still suffering bouts of depression, or that Jane may need to disappear from view of the rest of the group so that she can give herself an insulin injection. In such situations there can sometimes be a greater chance of some individuals showing insensitivity to others who are different. This can occur through ignorance or a simple lack of tolerance.

Insensitivity and possible conflict are more likely to happen when there is a disability that is not physically obvious but rather manifests itself through behaviour. In such cases, the leader may have to intervene in a tactful manner to maintain the group and avoid unnecessary conflict. Fortunately in some cases, the participant in question will be accustomed to others showing alarm or curiosity about their disability and will be quite open with information. Control of personal information, as much as possible, should remain in possession of the individual in question.

For any unknown participants, effort should be made in assessing their capabilities through polite conversation. Useful information would be topics such as any recent trips undertaken and current levels of exercise. Most organisations will also require a form to be completed where the participant acknowledges risk, agrees to the policies of the organisation, discloses any ailments, special needs and allows authorisation of appropriate medical attention. If necessary, enquiries to other club members, staff, family members or other organisations may be appropriate in order to gauge capabilities.

The nature and number of questions that need to be raised will depend upon the activity as well as the type of group (e.g. teenagers, club):

  • Is medication required?
  • If so, how should it be administered?
  • Does the participant require an attendant carer?
  • Any allergies?
  • Does the participant require assistance with dressing or any other personal care?
  • Is any special equipment required?
  • Is there a likelihood of bed wetting?
  • Are there any particular situations which should be avoided?
  • Is a special diet required?
  • Who should be contacted in case of an emergency?
  • Which sections may pose difficulties for those in wheelchairs?
  • Which sections could pose difficulties for the vision impaired?

You may require a special form to record all of this information.

There are times when carers and families may be reluctant to divulge information, even though it is relevant and may affect the conduct of the activity. Reluctance can sometimes be due to fears of exclusion, as this is the experience of many with disabilities or disorders. Though reassurance may be required, this is not the time to gloss over answers, as the information sought may be quite valuable. Some disabilities do affect behaviour and questions regarding anti-social behaviour may seem prying but are highly relevant and important. Behaviour which can lead to violence should be explored as this can pose hazards not just to the participant but to the rest of the group.

There can be a fine line between what a person can or cannot do in an outdoor adventure setting. Discrimination and ignorance can be barriers. In many cases, participation is simply determined by the nature of the task and the level of resources that can be provided. Despite the earnest desire to include everyone in participation, the reality is that some activities are simply incompatible with some people. Even with able-bodied groups, not everyone can or wants to take part in an extended backcountry ski tour, carry a heavy pack and camp in the snow. Deciding what is achievable and what is not, though a common process in adventure leadership, still requires case-by-case judgement aided by careful assessment, appropriate consultation and application of experience. When considering limitations, it is important to try and focus on the abilities present rather than the disabilities.

Participation can be enhanced by an appropriate focus of objectives. A sense of fun is important, with an attitude of enjoyment of the experience, rather than the pure attainment of physical goals. Try to place more emphasis on small but real achievements, social interaction and experience of the outdoors rather than just raw physical accomplishment. Strive for inclusion wherever possible, particularly in the ‘forming’ phase of group development.

Match activity to participants
Planning should take into account all that is known about the participants, the area to be visited and the type of activity to be undertaken. Modify activities where possible, using lateral thinking to consider as broad a range of options as possible. Alternatively, or in combination, you may have to screen the participants to those who can safely partake in the activity. It can be very difficult to decline someone keen on taking part; however a leader must exercise duty of care when making such decisions. It is better to have hurt feelings than to embark upon an activity with inadequate resources and then face a situation of serious harm.

Balance group needs with skills available
The number of competent, able bodied group members required to assist some group members with special needs will vary according to those special needs. With individuals with very high support needs, a ration of one (or more) able bodied person to each person with special needs may be required. Seek advice from the individual or their routine carers during the planning stages of such trips.

Escape routes
A series of shorter loops can be utilised to provide options for reducing distance. Consider vehicle access for emergencies. Consider the possibility of the group splitting into two, a slower and a faster group and still using the same start and finish points. Allow for an alternative route that the slower group might take and for possible sub-leaders. Despite the most thorough preparation, you may not realise the full capabilities and limitations of participants until you are underway. It is then that the extra effort spent in planning will pay off.

Liaison with specialists
Depending on the level of special needs present, you may find it necessary to liaise closely with specialists outside the outdoor recreation field. They may need to be consulted before, during or after the activity. Families and regular carers can provide valuable insights prior to the activity.

At times, an aide or social worker will accompany the party. The rapport they have built with the participant is a valuable asset and they will often be aware of subtle changes in the participant’s condition long before signs become obvious. Be conscious that this aide may have limited adventure recreation experience and may be anxious about the outdoors.

Skill sets
It can be useful to think of skills grouped into sets when considering the resources required in the group. As well as appropriate outdoor adventure skills, other skills need to be considered when planning ratios of staff/experienced members to partici-pants/inexperienced members, as shown in Figure 34.1.

These ‘other skills’ are as wide ranging as that of the disabilities and disorders that exist. Some examples include ‘transferring’ (physically moving a person with limited mobility), ‘signing’ (communicating via hand and body signals), ‘personal care’ (assistance in toiletting, dressing, washing and feeding) and ‘behaviour management’ (systematic application of strategies that encourage desirable behaviour). In preparing for the activity, gain an appreciation of the total skills and resources that may be required so that you have the necessary knowledge to coordinate and facilitate the activity.

Although cross-trained personnel are desirable, what is more important is that collectively the group has the resources both in personnel and resources to deal with all anticipated circumstances and still have some reserves. It is not essential that you as the group’s leader possess all the skills and resources required by the group. What is essential, is that you ensure the timely and appropriate application of what has already been pre-assembled.

It is worthwhile noting that all participants bring with them something they can contribute to the group. It is desirable to find this ‘something’ and encourage it. It might be a sense of humour, joke or story telling. Try to find tasks that participants can assist in, perhaps in food preparation or collection of firewood. This will promote the maintenance of the group. The ovals represent a party member’s set of skills as shown in Figure 34.1.

Pre-trip activities
If attempting to undertake a major trip, a ‘warm up’ trip may be useful in establishing the group and for assessment. In all cases, some sort of pre-trip meeting will be of benefit in terms of assessment, planning, communication and establishment of rapport, particularly where participants may have apprehensions or anxieties. Training might also be required beforehand (e.g. stove lighting or fitness training). If unfamiliar with the area to be visited, a reconnaissance would be highly recommended.

An example

Consider the following situation. You are leading a day-walk party comprised of experienced and inexperienced walkers, some individuals with hearing impairment and some with mobility difficulties. A navigator has been delegated and you are walking in the middle of the party. While conversing with a party member who had shown some anxiety prior to the walk you notice that the person with mobility difficulties (Jack) is struggling more than anticipated and that this person’s carer (Jill) seems to be absorbed in walking up the hill, trying to ‘catch her breath’.

You speak with Jill and discover that she has asthma, although she did not previously declare it, and luckily she has brought her asthma reliever. She apologises for not noticing Jack’s difficulties. You speak with Jack and discover that although he is struggling, he wants to continue on but just needs to go at a slower pace. A check with the whip confirms that although not complaining, some of the others also seem to have difficulties with the pace.

Though you have an escape route nearby, your assessment indicates that both Jack and Jill can safely continue with the walk provided that the pace slows down. Nevertheless, you decide to have an early lunch and to follow a slightly shorter route. After a brief rest, you catch up and communicate this to everyone. Fortunately, your preparation has included the provision of a party member conversant in AUSLAN (Australian Sign Language) and for good measure you also learnt some of the basic signs such as yes, no and thank you.

A chat with the navigator and other interested party members ensures that the changes in plan are clearly understood. At lunch you pull out a frisbee from your pack and initiate some puzzles. Despite the frequent stops and slow pace, the faster walkers have something to entertain themselves with and frustration is minimised. It takes a long time before you return to camp, but it doesn’t matter because you allowed ample time for this.

In this example, appropriate planning, preparation and facilitation ensured that the outdoor experience is not only safe, but rewarding to all. Consider the difficulties that could have arisen if you had concerned yourself solely with navigation, or in only assisting one or two particular individuals. Depending on the communication skills of the party, it may have been some time until you were completely aware of the situation. At that stage, you may already have committed the group to the longer route. The morale of both the slower and faster party members could have deteriorated rapidly.

Prior reconnaissance assisted in determining potential lunch spots, clear areas for activities and route choices. This, together with good monitoring of the group provided you with options that could be decided upon quickly at the time of the activity. Use of a party member’s signing skills provided adequate communication for all and permitted more time to spend with other party members. Utilisation of navigation skills present in the group allowed you to spend resources on managing the group in a responsive manner. Allowance for mobility limitations lead to provision of alternative activities and a realistic arrival time.

Things to carry

In general, keep medication with the party. It might not be required till the party returns to base camp, but a delay in return could cause complications. Dosette boxes which readily indicate doses per day are ideal for dispensing tablets. Foam packaging may be necessary if the medicine is sensitive to high temperatures.

All major undertakings necessitate an equipment check. If unsure of provision or suitability of equipment carried, spares should be taken along (e.g. hats and gloves). A poncho is a useful standby waterproof garment suitable for those with mobility difficulties and also doubles as a groundsheet/make-shift shelter.

Spare water and sunscreen is useful. Medication often has side effects of thirst and increased sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation. If personal care is required ensure that latex gloves and tissues are available.

A thermos is invaluable in the snow for providing a quick source of fluid and warmth. Closed-cell foam mats can be useful for those who want to sit on the snow, and a snow shovel can be used for making structures in the snow, either for play, seating or for shelter. Balls or other small toys can be useful in providing an alternative, fun activity during dull moments.

Environmental factors

Care of people with disabilities in the bush requires constant attention. Participants with communication difficulties may not indicate to anyone that they are tired, are cold or that they need to go to the toilet. These individuals may simply disappear behind a tree or stop to sit down without telling anyone. If there are participants who have a limited sense of danger or have a tendency to wander from the group, it would be wise to allocate someone both capable and willing to specifically monitor these individuals at all times. Searching for people lost in the bush who may have an impaired sense of judgement or limited communication capabilities can be significantly more difficult than searching for an able-bodied person.

Take time to point out items of interest and to enjoy the environment. Forests, rocky trails, sounds of birds and running creeks may be a common experience to you but may be a completely new experience for some of the participants.

Most things that apply to the bush environment also apply to the snow. A more frequent appraisal of party members is necessary and head counts should be frequently made. The snow as well as any cold/wet environment presents its own unique rewards and risks. Those requiring greater supervision will need to be checked constantly for things such as cold stress, dehydration, anxiety and boredom, etc. Care must be taken with those who may have restrictions on their circulatory system. These include those with cerebral palsy, spina bifida, diabetes or those with amputated limbs. Note that persons with vision impairment will still require sunglasses or goggles, as they are also susceptible to snow blindness. Even though they may not be able to see, their retinas can still be burnt.


For some groups, activities may be conducted from permanent accommodation with showers, toilets and other amenities. Ensure that you are aware of any potential hazards such as dams, major roads, livestock and machinery. Check buildings, particularly toilets and showers for wheelchair access as this will affect how much manual assistance will be required by carers.

Activity and equipment modifications

Apart from provision of resources, modifications to activities and equipment can sometimes make the difference between taking part and not taking part in an activity.

Special equipment

Instead of a conventional wheelchair, would an off-road wheelchair be better in the area to be visited? How about a sled or sit-ski (modified chair with skis) in the snow? Snowshoes and toboggans might be a better alternative to skis for some. Ponchos can be easier to take on and off for some participants rather than conventional jackets. Shorter skis are more appropriate in some cases as participants may find them easier to control. Access to some specialised equipment is limited and it may be useful to contact specialist organisations for assistance.

Tent or roofed accommodation

Using permanent accommodation, party members can return to prepared hot food and warm drinks, clean dry clothes and hot showers. Electric wheelchairs can be recharged and road access for emergency services is present. Permanent accommodation eases the tasks of toiletting, washing and feeding while still allowing participation in the outdoors. The convenience offered is particularly attractive for snow trips.

For more capable individuals and groups, tent camping is entirely feasible. Depending on capabilities, it may be conducted as part of a conventional bushwalk, as a base camp or a tent site 300 m away from permanent accommodation. Sleeping bags with a full zip can be useful for those with mobility difficulties. An air mattress on top of a closed-cell foam mat can be better for those who may develop pressure sores.

Campfires and stoves

Cooking, while being an enjoyable activity, can be a hazard and care must be taken, particularly with the vision impaired and those with obsessive disorders. Toasting marshmallows is a simple but pleasurable way to spend the end of the day and can involve everyone. Ensure strict supervision—you may also want to place some logs as physical barriers around the fire.


Be aware that for many people with special needs, fitness is often an issue and so objectives need to be matched accordingly. Stops may need to be made more frequently. Alternative activities such as games can be incorporated into an outing to provide added interest.

For some individuals with vision impairment, a coloured shirt or pack worn by the carer may be of assistance when following a track; others may require a carer walking alongside. A whistle worn around the neck would be particularly useful for some individuals and provides a ready means of communicating distress.

In uneven terrain, physical assistance may be necessary. Offer it when appropriate but try to allow the participants to do as much as they can on their own. Encouragement and eventual achievement can produce great feelings of accomplishment not just for the individual grappling with the task, but for the entire group.

A person pushing a participant in a wheelchair should remember that, as much as possible, the focus of control should be with the participant rather than the carer. Avoid moving across a slope as there is a greater risk of tipping. When moving down steep slopes, it is preferable to support the wheelchair from below, but from above when moving uphill.

If you need to physically lead a person with vision impairment, allow them to grasp your arm rather than the other way around. Provide them with verbal commentary of what the terrain is like, such as what is on the ground, tree positions, overhanging branches and whether you are going uphill or downhill.


If possible, choose an area early in a snow trip where there is opportunity to become familiar with the equipment and with basic movement. For lunch or major breaks, try to find an area where multiple activities can be conducted: some may want to practise their downhill techniques, some may want to have a snow ball fight, throw a frisbee or simply sit down and enjoy the surroundings. This is particularly important where there may be a wide variety of abilities present. The whole group could get involved in building an igloo.

Provide instructions on falling and getting up. In this way, injury can be avoided and frustration minimised. Falling is particularly important for those with vision impairment, as an emergency stop may have to be made with little warning. Get the skier to practise falling on cue when told to ‘fall’ or ‘sit down’. This can be an invaluable skill, particularly in a crowded resort area.

Assisted skiing
For most people, it is far easier to get up a slope than it is to ski down the same slope. Therefore greater assistance tends to be required when going downhill. Avoid steep hills with sharp turns at the bottom, particularly for those with vision impairment and practise assisted downhill-running techniques with able-bodied skiers beforehand so that when assistance is necessary, some degree of confidence is present.

There are a number of methods in providing assistance. One is to have the participant holding onto the more experienced skier from behind (e.g. grasping pack straps), both skiers adopting a low and stable snow plough position. Another method is to have two experienced skiers holding either end of a pair of stocks providing a handle. The skier being assisted, holds onto these stocks for physical support while still negotiating the slope with some degree of independence. Alternatively, the skier requiring assistance may link arms either side with the two more experienced skiers.


It is prudent to find out about the types of disability or disorders that are present in the party. Try to gauge the implications this might have and what resources will be required to deal with any possible ‘worst case scenario’ while planning the proposed activity.

Acquired Brain Injury (ABI), in contrast to those with an intellectual disability, is caused by an injury to the brain and is not present at birth. There may be the presence of strong emotional issues regarding the changes in lifestyle caused by the disabling event (e.g. anger). Effects can include poor coordination and/or paralysis. Sense of balance, touch, smell, hearing and taste may be affected as well as thought processes. There may be difficulty in communicating and in controlling what others may deem to be inappropriate behaviour.

Arthritis primarily affects the joints in the body and can affect both the young and old. There are significant difficulties associated with mobility restrictions, chronic pain and fatigue. Those with moderate to severe arthritis may be excluded from activities that contain excessive risk of joint strain (e.g. skiing).

Asthma can have an acute onset due to a number of triggers such as pollen, cigarette smoke or physical exertion. Breathing is made difficult and reliever medication should always be readily at hand. In some cases asthma can be fatal.

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) tend to occur in children rather than adults. Behaviours may include poor concentration, hyperactivity, withdrawal and being generally anti-social. Hyperactivity is often present but not always, hence the two terms. It is important not to have activities which are too long in nature and to have breaks and alternative options. Provide clear and simple instructions and give reminders in a gentle manner.

Autism is a developmental disability which can strongly affect social and communication skills. People with autism are generally less sociable than the norm, may or may not interact with others in the group, and may or may not communicate verbally. There can be great difficulty in dealing with changes in routine and there is a tendency to display obsessive behaviour (e.g. playing with water). Provide information regularly and well before planned activities to minimise anxiety.

Cardiovascular Disorders may either be congenital (e.g. faulty valves) or acquired

(e.g. hypertension). Monitor physiological responses to physical activity. Watch out for symptoms such as: chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, excessive fatigue and irregular heart beat.

Cerebral Palsy is a result of damage to areas of the brain affecting motor skills at or near the time of birth. Depending on the extent of damage to the brain there may also be sensory, communication, learning or other related difficulties. Multiple disabilities may be present (e.g. epilepsy). The effects vary greatly, and may include: being in a wheelchair or able to walk unaided, may or may not communicate verbally, and may require assistance with feeding and toiletting.

Cystic Fibrosis is inherited. It affects the respiratory and digestive system. Discourage both active and passive smoking anywhere near people with this condition. Fatigue sets in easily and they may suffer from depression.

Dementia is a loss of intellectual ability usually caused by the ageing process, but sometimes caused by disease (e.g. multiple sclerosis). Be patient, encouraging and use prompts where necessary.

Developmental Delay usually but not always refers to children rather than adults. A delay exists in the development of areas such as speech, fine and gross motor skills and social skills. In many cases, the deficits are permanent.

Down’s Syndrome is a disability caused by congenital disorder. Affected people generally have reduced intellectual functioning, and may have significant speech and communication difficulties.

Diabetes is a result of an inability to regulate blood sugar levels by converting sugar to energy. There is insulin dependent (requires medication and diet control) and non-insulin dependent diabetes (diet controlled). The participant will usually have a regime which is followed to control sugar levels—ensure it is followed. Where there is high physical exertion or in a cold environment, allowance will need to be made for greater energy spent. There is often decreased circulation to the extremities, which requires greater care in cool/wet environments.

Epilepsy is a disturbance in the electrochemical activity of the brain. There are several types and the extent may vary widely. Epilepsy may manifest itself in a momentary pause while performing an activity (absence seizure) to violent, uncontrollable convulsions (tonic-clonic seizure). Daily medication is commonly used to help control epilepsy. It is important to avoid restraining a person during a seizure and to simply protect the person by removing hard objects such as chairs, etc. that could harm. Rest and reassurance will be required when the participant is recovering. If a seizure lasts for more than ten minutes, an ambulance will need to be called.

Haemophilia is a genetic disorder which affects the blood’s clotting mechanism. The participant should have a customised action plan for any bleeds. Do not administer aspirin, as this will cause internal haemorrhage. Remember good hygiene practices and wear gloves.

Hearing Impairment requires facing the person when talking to facilitate lip reading and communication of facial expressions. Speak normally and not in a child-like manner. Some people with hearing impairment may communicate with sign language (e.g. AUSLAN).

Hydrocephalus is a build up of cerebrospinal fluid in the cranium due to an imbalance between production and absorption. Usually controlled by a shunt (tubing) which drains away excess fluid. Be careful about activities which will lower the partici-pant’s head in relation to the body or any deterioration in condition which may indicate a shunt malfunction. Such deterioration in condition may include headache, dizziness, blurred or double vision, increased difficulty with speech, and motor coordination.

Intellectual Disability can cover an extremely wide ranging area of intellectual difficulties. For some, there is a genetic cause (e.g. Down Syndrome) but for many the cause is unknown. A good talk with the regular carer will be of great benefit as the type of assistance required will vary enormously. Use short, simple sentences and clarify with the person to see that they have understood.

Limb Deficiency may be congenital or due to accident or surgery. If a prosthesis (artificial limb) is worn, ensure that the stump and socket are kept clean and dry. If stump socks are used, make sure you have spares.

Multiple Sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system with an unknown cause and no known cure as yet. Some may use a wheelchair, others may have speech slurring or vision impairment. Symptoms vary greatly, so ask what assistance may be required.

Muscular Dystrophy is a disease causing muscle wasting and shortened lifespan. It only affects males and most affected boys are in wheelchairs by their teens. Many affected people have limited use of upper body muscles.

Paraplegia, Quadriplegia and Hemiplegia – Paraplegia is spinal cord damage affecting lower half of body. Quadriplegia is spinal cord damage affecting upper and lower halves of the body, and Hemiplegia is paralysis of one side of the body.

Psychiatric Disability is caused by the presence of a psychiatric illness (e.g. decreased feelings of self worth caused by schizophrenia). Medication is commonly used to assist persons with a psychiatric disability. Be aware of behaviour patterns that may be present and avoid situations which are known to cause undue distress or anxiety. Medication can have many side effects including suppression of normal body language.

Spina Bifida is caused by the incorrect development of parts of the brain and spinal cord, and can sometimes be identified by the presence of lumps along the spinal column. Those with a severe condition may require extensive personal care and use a wheelchair. Problems with bowel function are common.

Stroke or Cerebral Vascular Accident (CVA) is caused by haemorrhaging in the brain. The effects of any brain injury varies greatly, depending upon the location and extent of the haemorrhaging (refer to ABI). Be positive, patient and encourage independence.

Vision Impairment covers a wide range of sight difficulties. The majority of visually impaired people have partial vision and there are different types of visual impairment. You might find that some individuals may be able to see objects to the side of them better than to the front. Others might be able to see contrasts better than actual forms or shapes. Be aware of hazards and remove where possible or communicate their proximity to the individual when appropriate. Commentary is invaluable as it allows the participant to form a ‘picture’ of their environment and to understand what is going on around them.

Other groups

Behaviour disorders
These disorders can be difficult to define. Examples include the inability to control anger which may be present with a number of groups including those with acquired brain injury, some individuals with an intellectual disability, at-risk youth or other disadvantaged groups. As an outdoor adventure leader, you will need to liaise with carers, youth worker/social worker, etc. in discussing appropriate objectives, ground rules and disciplinary procedures. Self control can often be tested with such groups and it is important to keep track of your reactions to any challenging behaviour. Humour, patience, a sense of fair play and the ability to listen, can be significant assets.

Recognise that there are far reaching complications that impact as a result of the presence of AIDS. There are many fears that can be dispelled by sound knowledge of its transmission and by good hygiene practices. It is very difficult to transmit AIDS outside of sexual activity and needle sharing. What is probably more of a concern are participants who may be hepatitis carriers. In such situations, washing hands and avoiding sharing food and utensils, including water bottles, is important.

Law offenders
Although fun is always an objective, you may be working as part of a broader educational experience with social workers, etc. and hence have other specific objectives. There may be a desire to use the bushwalk or snow trip as a vehicle to reinforce concepts of self esteem, trust, responsibility, teamwork and decision making/consequences. The outcomes of the activity may be enhanced by allowing the participants to be involved in the planning process. This increased ‘ownership’ should hopefully increase levels of participation and interest. Encourage initiative and leadership skills.

Substance abuse
Individuals with drug dependency may have severely affected decision making skills, self esteem, motivation and fitness. Work closely with other specialists where available. It is likely that there will be bans on drugs for the period of your activity. There are always reasons for substance abuse and often unhappy ones. As a role model, you may therefore play a limited part in the counselling process.

An individual with special needs is often very dependent upon others. Independence should be encouraged wherever possible, even if it is only in small, seemingly insignificant tasks. Offer positive choices and consult where possible. Try to see things from the participant’s perspective, sometimes the smallest steps can be giant strides forward. Recognise them and provide plenty of encouragement.

The dilemma often met by those facing an individual who is ‘different’ is that of the seemingly contradictory aims of providing for special needs and that of treating them with equality. How does one treat a person ‘differently’ in the right way yet avoid discriminating against them?

Allowing and providing for special needs is a matter of awareness. Treating with equality is a matter of attitude. With any disability, it is important to try to provide the individual with as much respect, dignity and equality as you would with any other person. However it is worth noting, that people with disabilities are also prone to bias, discrimination, selfishness and intolerance just like anyone else. Therefore when it comes to group management, everyone should be subject to the processes of praise, encouragement, recognition and discipline.

Resources and further reading

NICAN: An Australia-wide information service on organisations and resources that can assist with recreation, tourism and sport for people with disabilities. They have a very comprehensive database and can perform keyword computer searches on words such as ‘skiing’ or ‘off-road-wheelchair’.

NICAN, PO Box 407, CURTIN ACT 2605. Ph/TTY: (02) 6285 3713. Fax: (02) 6285 3714. Email:

Garcia J. 1998. My Participant Has @!!: A Guide to Disabilities. Bulleen & Templestowe Community House, Victoria.