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.
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.
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.
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.