Are you affected by a physical disability and are wondering if it’s possible to scuba dive? You’re not alone. Approximately 15% of the world’s population has some kind of physical disability, whether they were born with it or suffered an injury. It may seem like this impairment has completely closed off the opportunity to scuba dive. Not so.
Disabled persons can scuba dive thanks to the support provided by organizations like the Handicapped SCUBA Association (HSA) that provide the specialized equipment and training that allow one to dive with a disability. Depending on the severity of your disability, you can have varying levels of autonomy or will be assisted by staff to safely dive in the water.
Scuba diving with a disability is not just fun, but it has many practical benefits such as cardiovascular training, reduction in pains and aches, as well as tremendous mental benefits for individuals suffering from PTSD or anxiety. In this article, we’ll discuss why it’s a good idea for disabled persons to scuba dive and the organizations that can help them accomplish this task. Don’t let your physical impairment get in the way of your enjoyment of scuba diving.
Benefits of scuba diving for disabled persons
Whether you are a disabled or able-bodied person, scuba diving can benefit everyone alike. Being an active sport, it can improve one’s health and fitness. Furthermore, diving will challenge your endurance and cardiovascular strength.
Aside from the physical benefits, scuba diving has various mental benefits as well. The feeling of floating in this weightless world while observing the wonderful sights has amazing calming effects. While some people find diving to cause anxiety, many find the opposite to be true. Some divers, particularly disabled veterans, have found scuba diving to be an effective treatment for PTSD, depression, stress, and anxiety.
The coral reef can be so colorful and ethereal; the magnificence of its views and of seeing new and unique species brings an escape and wonder that lingers in your mind even after you resurface.
Diving also gives disabled persons a chance to be more mobile than they are on land. Those with limited or a complete lack of mobility can be assisted so that they will glide through the water. Paraplegic divers can use their arms to move independently with the support of specialized webbed gloves in place of fins.
Quadriplegics require the assistance and guidance of a dive instructor trained to help disabled persons. All they need to do is relax and focus on their breathing. Some paralyzed people have found that the weightlessness of their body in the water has helped them feel some sensations in their paralyzed parts.
Individuals with chronic pain have found that much of it is alleviated when they are in the water. The hydrostatic pressure of water acts like a compression bandage over the entire body, relieving one’s aches and pains while also training their heart and lungs.. Furthermore, the deep has a calming effect and divers feel like the weight of the world has been temporarily lifted from their shoulders as soon as they are submerged.
Very importantly, scuba diving is a social sport that is often done in a group, and divers will dive with at least one or two dive buddies who will watch each other’s backs.
Is it safe to scuba dive with disabilities?
While it may not seem like it’s safe to scuba dive with disabilities, it can be done with the right equipment and training. There are many dive schools and organizations throughout the world that have highly trained staff that can assist disabled persons adapt to and experience the joy of scuba diving. These dive centers provide specialized equipment and training to those who require extra care in order to guarantee a safe and positive experience with scuba diving.
Furthermore, adaptive diving can be a great opportunity for skilled divers to assist those with disabilities. It’s always a good feeling to help someone learn the scuba safety guidelines, but it’s even more fulfilling when that person requires extra care. Many of these organizations are nonprofit and are always looking for certified divers to provide a helping hand.
Scuba diving with disabilities is as safe as the trained personnel make it to be, and helping people experience the soothing effect of the ocean and the freedom of diving is a good reward in itself. It will certainly be harder to scuba dive with a disability, but it’s not impossible.
Scuba training for disabled persons
Many professional divers work tirelessly to help bridge the gap between disabled and non-disabled people. The Handicapped Scuba Association (HSA) is an organization that was founded in 1981 with the sole purpose of helping people with disabilities scuba dive. The organization was officially started when PADI donated some equipment to their cause.
Much has changed in the four decades since. Now, the HSA has over 3,000 qualified staff that will assist disabled divers on their dives. There are locations in over 45 countries. HSA have adapted the courses offered by PADI so that it is compatible with the specific needs of each student. Through the years, HSA has devised many strategies to work with all kinds of disabilities.
For instance, they have modified the hand signals divers use so that it can be used with blind divers. Instead of relying on visual communication, the hand signs become touches on the arm that pass on information. Divers with mental disabilities are given as much time and patience as necessary for them to understand each step and feel safe in the water.
Additionally, HSA offers an instructor course so that scuba instructors, assistant instructors, and dive masters can equip themselves with the skills to specifically teach and work with disabled people. Once certified, an instructor will travel around the world and instruct at dive centres. During the course, students will learn how to adapt their teaching methods to different students with different disabilities.
The course will also focus on the best ways to keep everyone on the dive safe and learning new communications styles to convey information more effectively. Once certified, local instructors can share their scuba knowledge with others in their area, as well as in HSA locations throughout the world.
Can disabled persons get their scuba diving certification?
Absolutely! However, there are a few things you should know before you start. First, the courses you will be taking, as well as the skills and equipment used, have been adapted from the traditional courses to suit the needs of people with various disabilities.
With that said, the standards are still high. You do not get certified by just participating. Everyone must complete the performance requirements to a satisfactory level to get certified. In other words, this is indeed a test that can be failed. The safety procedures must be understood and followed for everyone in the group to be safe.
The instructor and student will work together to find the best ways to work around the disability while still completing the necessary requirements of a fully-fledged scuba course. In order to be eligible to take a course, some basic health requirements must first be met.
Anyone who does not meet these health requirements cannot take the course. For instance, those who have severe mental illness or a medical condition that affects their heart or lungs may not be allowed to dive.
A great thing about scuba diving for disabled persons is that water is a great equalizer. Whether you are able-bodied or not, the experience is similar for all. From an instructor’s perspective, it is rewarding and challenging to teach the skill of scuba diving to individuals of all levels. Working with the students to overcome their physical limitations and seeing them succeed is truly a fulfilling experience.
The courses and certifications offered by the HSA are very similar to what other dive certification agencies offer. Clicking on the link to the HSA courses, you’ll see that they offer Intro to Scuba Diving, Open Water Diver, Advanced Diver, and even Snorkeling courses.
These recreational programs are similar to what other training agencies offer in terms of knowledge training, confined water training, and open water diving. They also have additional sections on marine life identification so you’ll know when you’ve encountered a rare find.
Courses catered to professionals are cross-over courses, meaning they are recognized between agencies. For instance, dive professionals who are already certified by another agency can take the instructor development course (IDC), become an instructor, and the HSA will also recognize them as an instructor level diver.
For disabled persons looking to get scuba certified, the HSA certification system is flexible because of the wide range of disabilities they have to account for. You can get HSA certified even if you have a visual impairment, PTSD, paraplegia, quadriplegia, or a high-functioning intellectual disability.
The primary focus of the training is on the HSA Physical Performance Requirements. The HSA has a multilevel certification system, and based on their course performance, the disabled diver is given a certification appropriate for their ability.
In order to pass, the diver must meet the Physical Performance Requirements which are adapted for different disabilities. This is the same standard which able-bodied students are expected to meet in courses offered by diver training agencies such as PADI. Depending on how much leeway is given, it can affect the level of certification they receive.
As mentioned above, there are three levels to the HSA certifications: Levels A, B, and C. Level A is basically equivalent to a standard Open Water Diver certification. Levels B and C indicate that the diver has certain physical limitations and that they must be accompanied by the requisite divers as stated on their certification. The exact description of each level is taken directly from the HSA website:
The student has successfully challenged all of the HSA Physical Performance Requirements, demonstrating that he or she can safely SCUBA dive, solve basic personal emergencies, help another diver in distress, and perform basic rescues. They have shown, by successfully challenging these Performance Requirements, that they can perform the skills required to be an effective Buddy and are certified to dive with one other certified SCUBA diver.
The student has successfully challenged those HSA Physical Performance Requirements that demonstrate their ability to safely SCUBA dive, and to solve basic emergencies. However, they are unable to successfully challenge those Performance Requirements that demonstrate their ability to help another diver in distress.
Therefore, the LEVEL B diver is certified to SCUBA dive with two dive buddies who are certified Open Water Level A or above. In the case of an emergency, this system will provide an effective dive buddy for all members of the dive team.
The student has successfully challenged those HSA Physical Performance Requirements that demonstrate their ability to safely SCUBA dive. However, they are unable to successfully challenge those Performance Requirements that demonstrate their ability to independently solve basic personal emergencies, or to execute basic scuba skills, such as swimming underwater, and operating their Buoyancy Control Device to descend.
The skills that must be performed for them, such as operating their BCD to descend, require the Assisting Buddy to have professional skills. They are certified to dive with two dive buddies, one certified Level A or above, and an HSA Dive Buddy or, at a minimum, certified Rescue Diver.
HSA is the most renowned agency for disabled divers, however it is not the only one. There are various non-profit organizations that are either partnered with HSA or they are independent. For example, Diveheart has courses on adaptive diving, dive buddy training, and instructor training. They are based primarily in the US and UK, but have locations internationally as well.
Another organization is Disabled Divers International which is concentrated mainly in Europe with a couple of locations in the US.
Some additional programs that cater to disabled veterans are the The Wounded Warrior Project and the Disabled Veterans SCUBA project. Two other organizations with stellar track records of incorporating diving in their therapy and rehabilitation are Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba (SUDS) and Deptherapy (UK).