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Because water greatly reduces or even eliminates mobility problems for swimmers with disabilities, scuba diving can be taught to disabled swimmers with virtually no modifications. People with disabilities can go diving right along with non-disabled divers. Handicapped divers must be assisted to the dive platform and to exit the water, but everything else is the same; no special gear is required.
For some, scuba diving represents total freedom because it affords one the opportunity to move about without a wheelchair or other assistive devices in a barrier-free, gravity-free environment! It also offers a boost in self-esteem because becoming certified takes work. A person is left with a sense of accomplishment and the confidence to embrace new challenges.
The same basic safety and equipment concerns apply to everyone (there are just a few additional issues for people with disabilities (See side panel.) Divers should seek regular training through certified scuba classes, rather than classes at resorts.
Casa Colina Outdoor Adventures
Disabled Divers International
Disabled Sports USA
Handicapped Scuba Association (HSA)
Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba (SUDS)
Special Safety Concerns
Skin Protection: Reduced circulation, lack of sensation, or lack of movement can lead to skin breakdown. It is advised that carpet strips be used on pool decks and rocky shorelines to protect skin on hands and feet. Feet should be covered with diving boots or other foot coverings and other sensitive extremities should be similarly covered.
Medications: Depth of water and water pressure may increase the effects of certain medications to the point that it is not possible to safely participate in scuba diving. Medication and medical history is usually discussed in the first scuba class and individuals must consult their personal physicians about any safety concerns.
Pulmonary Conditions: Before anyone begins a scuba certification program, a full medical exam with chest x-rays must be taken. Contraindications do exist for some types of disabilities. Certain pulmonary conditions can affect air trapping, heart conditions and even convulsive disorders. Check with your physician.
Temperature Regulation: Individuals who have trouble with temperature regulation (quadriplegics, paraplegics, individuals with cerebral palsy, etc.) should always wear a wet suit in cold waters. A dry suit offers even more protection in extremely cold water, as it doesn't allow water to come between your skin and the suit, as a conventional wet suit does.