Scuba diving for individuals with disabilities
Diving for the disabled or scuba diving with disabilities isn’t the barrier to the sport. Included in this article is a video where you’ll see it’s possible to scuba dive with a disability.
Scuba diving with disabilities is possible and includes disabilities such as visual and hearing impairments, those who have lost limbs as an amputee and paraplegics or quadriplegics in a wheelchair. Scuba diving with a disability offers you the chance to enter a world of weightlessness.
When scuba diving with disabilities it still requires you to master some key skills. This includes mask clearing, buoyancy control and controlling your descent and ascent. But diving with a disability has been transformed by Sue Austin with the world’s first self-propelled underwater wheelchair.
There are organisations and charities to help. The main diving organisations have courses to learn how to dive who have people with disabilities too.
Scuba diving with disabilities
If you’re keen to scuba dive and you have a disability, but thought you wouldn’t be able to scuba dive, think again.
I was amazed when I saw Sue Austin’s video. You’ll see her below on her wheelchair, bombing around underwater.
Sue’s having a wonderful time underwater. She has her aqualung strapped to her wheelchair. Plus she’s breathing with a normal scuba diver’s regulator too.
Self-propelled underwater wheelchair with scuba dive tank
The difference is that she’s strapped to the world’s first self-propelled underwater wheelchair. This special wheelchair was invented by Sue Austin with her collaborations.
Her specially adapted wheelchair has two movement settings. These two settings allow for either a stable “flight” mode, where she can glide through the water. Or alternatively she can set it to a “loop-the-looping” mode.
Both modes are demonstrated in the video below.
“Being under there is beyond anything I could have imagined. People say about diving, it’s like flying. But this it’s in another dimension altogether. I’m doing things with my life I would have never believed possible.”
“NASA have been in touch. I’m now on the opposite side of the globe, about to create a new version of the underwater wheelchair — the fly dive wheelchair — a world premiere of a new version of the wheelchair that can also fly.”
What disability has affected Sue Austin?
It was back in the mid 1990’s when Sue Austin lost her mobility. This happened after an extended illness.
As a result of her illness and the disability it caused she wasn’t able to access the outside world for some time afterwards.
I’m hoping this article and the video of Sue Austin will inspire you to think about trying out scuba diving with your disability.
Diving with a disability without your wheelchair
One of the great properties about water is its buoyancy. On land we have to support our full weight, which is gravity pushing down on us.
Water is actually a great medium for those with disabilities. Water allows you to discover a whole new world of freedom. This is the freedom of movement in water and a feeling of weightlessness.
Underwater the buoyancy of water supports our bodies. This means if you need a wheelchair land for your disability it might be required underwater.
My mum is disabled in a wheelchair and she uses swimming for her weekly exercise at a local swimming pool.
Whilst she finds it difficult to walk on land or near impossible to exercise on land, when she’s in water things are much easier for her. The buoyancy of the water supports her weight, thus enabling her to exercise more freely.
The same concept applies to scuba diving with disabilities. I’m not suggesting you use scuba diving for exercise as such. Although it’s actually good for that too. But it may be a sport you could get involved with that compliments your disabled circumstances, whilst you benefit from the weightlessness you get from the properties of water.
Practicalities of scuba diving with a disability
The first practicality involves buddy diving system. This is explained in more detail below.
What about the buddy diving system with disabled diving?
For disabled scuba divers it’s likely that as a disabled person you are less likely to be able to help your dive buddy. This is especially true if you’re in a wheelchair. Disabled scuba divers should dive with two able-bodies divers, as a buddy trio.
This buddy system is in case of an emergency of one kind or another. It means your buddy will be scuba diving with you and will be there to help you should there be a problem, or visa versa.
I would also suggest that the two extra buddy-divers are able bodied scuba divers, or at least without severe disabilities. That way each of these non-disabled scuba divers are there to help each other should anything go wrong.
Plus both of them can help you as a disabled scuba diver too. This includes entering and exiting the water.
Entering and exiting the water as a disabled scuba diver
Depending on your disability this will affect how difficult or easy it is to enter and exit the water. There are a number of scuba diving entry techniques for able bodied divers, many of which cannot be used by disabled scuba divers. Which is especially true if you have a wheelchair.
For example diving from a dive boat you may need a specially designed lift to enter and exit the water. These lifts are not available on all scuba diving boats. But you may want to make contact with a disabled scuba diving association, like the Disabled Divers Association noted below.
Diving with the Disabled Divers Association you’ll be diving with likeminded individuals. You will scuba dive with individuals who have experience scuba diving with disabled divers.
Types of scuba dive for disabled scuba divers
Disabled scuba divers have to give more thought for certain types of diving for their own safety.
There are many types of dive, which include:
- Shallow dives for beginner scuba divers.
- Deeper dives for the more adventurous and advanced scuba divers.
- Wreck diving.
- Night diving.
- Drift diving.
Each of these types of scuba diving have their individual challenges for able bodied scuba divers. Which will be a different challenge if you have a disability.
For example, I wouldn’t suggest you dive in a strong current in a wheelchair, as this could be dangerous for you and your dive buddies. A mild current may be okay, as this will be manageable.
Extra planning will be necessary and of course the usual build up of diving experience is a must, before venturing on a deeper dive.
Disabled Divers Association
If you are considering scuba diving with a disability, I suggest you make contact with the Disabled Divers Association.
The Disabled Divers Association is about “Scuba diving for people with disabilities and disadvantages.”
“Scuba diving can be enjoyed by virtually anyone, regardless of physical ability. In fact, if you have a disability, scuba diving can offer you a unique sense of freedom by transporting you into a world of weightlessness and unlimited intrigue.”
The Disabled Divers Association has made scuba diving for the disabled in the UK possible.
There’s also the Disabled Divers International, which you may wish to look up too.
Who can scuba dive with a disability?
Whilst I’d love to say all disabilities can scuba dive, the reality of this is not the case.
The type of disability when you should be able to scuba dive includes:
- Muscular dystrophy.
- Hearing impairment.
- Visual impairment.
Each disability and the severity of it will need to be born in mind with any dive planning. You will also need to consult your doctor too.
With some careful planning and depending on the severity of the condition, if you have Multiple Sclerosis, Cerebral Palsy or Downs Syndrome, scuba diving could also be a possibility too.
However, if the disability is of a mental basis scuba diving is probably not a good idea. This for many reasons, most of which are for your safety and those around you.
Conditions which include heart, circulatory conditions or respiratory type conditions, you would need to get your doctor to agree to you scuba diving.
Support from the main scuba diving organisations for scuba divers with a disability
There’s also support from scuba diving organisations like PADI. PADI call their programme the ‘Adaptive Support Diver.’
With PADI, this course teaches you how to best support a dive buddy who has a physical or mental challenge.
The PADI Adaptive Support Diver course will increase your awareness of divers’ varying abilities. The course explores adaptive techniques to apply while diving or freediving with a buddy with a disability.
You can get involved with and become more aware about diving with people with disabilities. To discover adaptive techniques that can be applied when diving with a buddy that has a mental and/or physical challenge: Click this link to the PADI website
Alternatively, and if you prefer, BSAC run a ‘Diving For All’ (DfA) programme too.
The BSAC DfA Programme seeks to promote scuba diving to people with disabilities. It provide divers, clubs and centres with the knowledge and skills to ensure that diving is safe for all BSAC members.
‘DfA is about helping people with disabilities get into diving. It’s incredibly rewarding to teach somebody who perhaps thought they couldn’t dive, to learn to dive and watching them discover weightlessness and overcome their impairment.‘
‘It’s open to everybody, it doesn’t matter what your impairment provided you are medically fit to dive, you can go diving.’
John Gibbon, Diving for All.
Click links for more information:
I hope you enjoyed this article about scuba diving with a disability
I’d love to hear from you. Tell us about your adventures of diving and snorkeling, in the comments below. Please also share your photos. Either from your underwater cameras or videos from your waterproof Gopro’s!
If this article hasn’t answered all of your questions. If you have more questions either about snorkeling or types of scuba diving (or specifically about scuba diving with a disability), please comment below with your questions.
There will also be many more articles about scuba diving (and snorkeling) for you to read and learn about these fabulous sports.
Have fun and be safe!