Staff share verbal, visual and equipment adaptations for climbing

On the climbing wall, goals are tangible. Every handhold is a mark of success and every session an opportunity for participants to reach a little higher.

“Even if the first time they only go two feet up the wall and then come back down, often by the end of the day they have made it to the top of the wall,” says Simon Parr, with the Vancouver Adaptive Recreation team.

For participants with Power To Be, achieving those goals is an individual accomplishment with tailored support to help. Staff and volunteers use verbal and visual techniques, as well as different types of harnesses, to help people scale the wall.

“Climbing is great for empowering people,” says Ko Zolotas, with the Victoria Adaptive Recreation team. “From teaching them how to put on their own harnesses, to tying knots and performing safety checks with us to climbing the wall, we meet them where they are at and help them through it.”

It starts with the harness. In Victoria, staff members are able to work with individuals to assess mobility, strength and confidence levels before deciding whether to use a sitting, chest or full-body harness. The different set-ups provide varying levels of support for core stability (helpful for someone living with seizure condition or someone who has considerations around a cecostomy tube for example).

The program team also has access to a three-to-one pulley system in Victoria, which allows the belayer to assist the climber by taking some of their weight onto the ropes. The pulley is used for someone who has reduced mobility or strength, such as living with hemi- or paraplegia. The device allows them to use their arms or legs without having to bear their full weight.

“It evens the playing field for people,” Ko says. “For someone who is stronger, they are able to climb with very little assistance from us and we are also able to have someone with less strength climb that exact same route.”

For individuals on the autism spectrum or others who want a different visual motivation, the team uses toys and photos, placed between handholds, to encourage people to explore the wall or to help them understand the order of steps in the activity.

“The biggest thing that we do is verbal coaching,” Simon says. “We really use peer support … so that people are getting instructions from a person they know.”

Volunteers often climb alongside participants encouraging them as they go, or helping to place someone’s foot. “When you have somebody beside you it normalizes things,” Ko says, noting that can really help when people are afraid of heights.

Through partnerships with Climb Base5 in Vancouver and Boulders Climbing Gym in Victoria (and with Island Alpine Guides for Wilderness School), Power To Be facilitates climbing programs throughout the fall and winter. Sharing space with a diverse group of climbers at the gym or in nature is part of the experience.

“They get to see the whole climbing culture of the gym,” Ko says. “And they get to be a part of it.”

If you are curious to learn more about this or other programs, or would like more information on how to get involved with Power To Be please reach out to our Victoria Adaptive Recreation or Vancouver Adaptive Recreation teams.