Special Needs Travel
We just returned from No Barriers Summit 2011, and all I can say is an open-jawed, "Wow!" We've been involved in adaptive sport and recreation for over a decade and have seen our fair share of advancements along the way. However, that is nothing compared to the innovations and advances in technology that push the envelope in tearing down barriers for people with disabilities.
We arrived on a Thursday night into Winter Park, CO after a short flight, and long drive through Berthoud Pass. It is a breathtaking drive, hugging switchbacks and chugging up inclines in our 6-cylinder car. We got there a bit late, but we didn't miss the excitement and camaraderie that started from the first moment we walked into the West Portal Building at the National Sports Center for the Disabled.
Hundreds of people were laughing and talking. Food was being passed around between new friends, and old acquaintances. In the background, Mark Goffeney plucked the strings of his guitar like a master, entertaining the crowd. I took a double take when I saw Mark; he doesn't play guitar like most. You see, Mark plays entirely with his toes. He played many favorites with a soulful voice that made it obvious why he was nominated for an Emmy Award in the late 90's.
Then the crowd settled in for some comedy. If you've never heard of Josh Blue, Google him. He is hilarious! A former winner of Last Comic Standing, Josh brings a sense of humor to being born special needs, talking about people's reactions to his motor skills, and especially his resemblance to homeless men. We honestly laughed until we had tears rolling down our cheeks!
So began the four-day long Summit. If you ever get the chance to go, don't miss it!
Here is the description from their website: "Every couple years, in a naturally beautiful and challenging setting, the international No Barriers Summit brings together adventurers and outdoor enthusiasts as well as scientists and innovators for an outdoor summit unlike any other. The No Barriers Summit combines hands-on clinics, product demonstrations, nature excursions, films, art and music, keynote addresses, leadership exercises and a scientific symposium. We feel there is no way to separate technologies from challenges and believe that inspiration and opportunity fuel achievement."
I was there to promote TravelinWheels, to meet people from around the country who could spread the word about what we were doing. I also brought along my daughter, Kelsey, and several friends from Great Lakes Adaptive Sports to enjoy the adventure. I knew I would probably see some pretty cool adaptations to traditional sports equipment, but I had no idea of how many ingenious people I would meet who simply created something out of necessity.
Registrants had chosen in advance adventure clinics that they would like to try for the next three days. These ranged from whitewater rafting and kayaking, mountain climbing, mountain biking, canoeing, camping, fishing, trekking, and yoga to art and filmmaking.
Kelsey and our friends were able to participate in an assortment of activities. When Kelly Schultz returned from her horseback riding adventure, she couldn't stop smiling and talking about the experience of riding a horse in the beautiful mountain scenery. Then the other girls, who had gone on the camping adventure shared how they got to put up their own tents, start a campfire and make some yummy campfire treats. Dion Carr, our only male participant, had signed up for a progressive whitewater kayaking program and was having the time of his life learning eskimo rolls in the pool, in preparation for the real thing in the river on the last day.
The afternoon was spent in the Innovation Village, where inventors such as Brad Zdanivsky and his custom-designed quad rock climbing system, Carlos Moleda and his innovative off-road handcycle, Sarah Doherty and the Side Sticks sports crutch, Cindy Dillenschneider with her One-Arm Freedom Paddle for amputees who want to canoe, and Kevin Carr, and his company's adaptive kayaking innovations showed the crowd that a little ingenuity can go a long way in increasing quality of life and adventure for those with disabilities.
Everyone joined together in the evening to share experiences over dinner. The room quieted when No Barriers University kicked off after dinner. These were short presentations by inventors and technologists from major universities that demonstrated methods to allow the blind to visualize the world using their tongues, advances in cochlear implants, and prosthetics for our furry friends!
After the seriousness of the evening's University sessions, everyone was ready to kick back and watch films highlighting No Barriers' Chairman Erik Weihenmayer's trek up Mt. Everest. Erik didn't do this in a conventional way. He is blind, and used the tongue technology to assist.
The No Barriers Summit Film Festival also included features about climbs of the Dolomites, the Himalayas, El Cap, and the newest project, which brings "Soldiers to the Summit."
The next day was packed with activities, as the girls headed out to "Beach Day." Kayaking, canoeing, and fishing were the order of the day. One of the girls, Sondra Nehmzow, loved the kayaking, except for the fact that she got whacked in the head with the paddle when my daughter, Kelsey, was attempting to fix her paddle position. Dion chose another path. He went trekking and came up close and personal with a deer!
Another evening meant another Summit University session. This one featured advances in bionic orthotics and prosthetics, research on Autism, and advances in ophthalmology and engineering to assist people with disabilities. After such heavy topics, we, of course adjourned to the bar. There is nothing like bonding over a margarita or two.
By the third day of adventure, this group of 600 seemed a lot smaller, as everyone laughed and joked about the weekend's fun and shared their experiences. Familiarity had set in, and it was obvious that several friendships were made. The girls and Dion went to the river to kayak, raft, and fish. While Dion, Sondra, and Kelly had stories of fast, bumpy rapids to share, Kelsey came back to tell us she caught the biggest fish ever... herself! She had caught her own shirt when casting during fly-fishing. Oh well, maybe next time...
As the Summit began its closing ceremonies, we looked around at all the new friends we'd made, the adventures these courageous young-adults encountered, and the realization that the biggest barriers that exist are within our own minds. It reminded me again of why I created TravelinWheels. I hoped that providing information about accessibility could break down the barriers, both physical and mental, that exist when attempting to travel with a disability. I am thrilled to have been part of not only the No Barriers Summit, but the movement that attempts to level the playing field for people with disabilities.
And so ended the No Barriers Summit 2011... As with any summer camp, we promised we would write, or in this case, Facebook and Tweet, and hoped to see each other next year. Will you be there?
If you would like more information on No Barriers, you can go to their website at www.nobarriersusa.org