By Douglas Fehlen
Drop by the John Wooden Recreation Center on the UCLA campus on any given day and you're likely to see people climbing the rock wall, shooting hoops and swimming in the pool. And because UCLA has a vibrant adaptive recreation program, many of them will be individuals with disabilities.
Adaptive recreation employs the use of assistive technologies to open up activities to people who may otherwise not be able to enjoy them. A person who is missing a limb, for instance, might join in an activity with the help of a prosthetic arm or leg. Through UCLA's Adaptive Recreation Program, individuals with prosthetics can not only enjoy indoor exertions, but also outdoor adventures like kayaking, sailing, skiing and hiking.
Modifications to activities are also sometimes utilized to make them accessible to those with disabilities. For example, people who are unable to walk clearly cannot play basketball in the traditional manner, and playing in a wheelchair against players who are standing puts an individual at a significant competitive disadvantage. In adaptive recreation basketball leagues, everyone who plays is seated in a wheelchair, thus allowing those with handicaps to participate on a level playing field.
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The Name of the Game: Fun
Adaptive recreation opportunities can be found at organizations operating in communities throughout the United States, including on many college campuses. While the mission statements of these groups often include language about the important role physical activity can have on the self-esteem and social experiences of those with disabilities, what's really at the heart of these sports is fun.
At an annual wheelchair basketball tournament held on the University of California, Berkeley campus, teams' determination to win is only rivaled by the level of good-natured trash talk that can be heard throughout the gym. 'Roll 'n Shoot,' which began four years ago, features three-on-three competition between teams made up of college students and youth from the Berkeley community. Proceeds from the event support the Bay Outreach and Recreation Program (BORP), an organization that provides sports opportunities for young people with handicaps.
Trooper Johnson, coordinator of these youth programs, also notes the importance of adaptive sports in giving people an appreciation of disabilities - while having a good time, of course. 'We've got teams who are jumping in chairs for the first time,' Johnson explained in an interview with The Daily Californian. 'It's a blast. They're really trying something new and it gives them an idea for the first time.'
Want to be even more inspired? Learn about how Chuck Close has overcome both learning and physical disabilities to become one of the most celebrated artists of his time.