Equipment used by CRIS, the Community Recreational Initiatives Society, as part of a unique challenge. - Image: Contributed

Adaptive adventures unique challenge for Canada 150

Kelowna organization helps people with disabilities “journey” through Canada

Local people with disabilities had a unique opportunity earlier this month with a challenge that included stations to learn about Canada.

It was hosted by the Community Recreational Initiatives Society, better known as CRIS Adaptive Adventures, a charitable organization founded in 2001 to assist people with disabilities experience nature and outdoor recreation.

On Friday, August 11, 48 CRIS participants and volunteers took part in the Canadian Youth Challenge thanks in part to $5,000 in funding from the Central Okanagan Foundation’s Canada 150 grants program.

The challenge was designed to bring together young people with disabilities in the 15 to 30 age range, and to help them learn about Canada and its history while enjoying outdoor activities.

“We created a 10 station course representing each province where they learned about some aspect of that province while using all of our adaptive equipment,” explained Dawn Widdifield, CRIS’ executive director. “For example, for Alberta they dug up dinosaur bones on the beach, and for the Maritimes we kayaked out to ‘islands’ in the water.”

An important aspect of the event was interaction amongst CRIS participants who are often isolated due to physical, developmental, mental or behavioural disabilities.

“It’s great because on our regular CRIS adventures they usually only get to interact with one or two other people on the trip, whereas at this event they were in groups of five or more and able to socialize with people of similar ages,” Widdifield added.

CRIS currently works with over 170 participants throughout the Okanagan and has a roster of as many volunteers who give time to assist people with disabilities on short to multi-day outdoor adventures.

“We work with those who have any kind of impairment, anything that it is disabling them from accessing the outdoors. We break down those barriers using adaptive equipment.”

The organization has specialized non-flippable kayaks, adaptive tandem bicycles, and trail rider chairs for hiking. In the winter, participants can enjoy snowshoeing and cross country skiing in adaptive equipment and special sleighs. However, such specialized equipment can be expensive.

“Our trail riders can cost between $6,000 and $8,000 each,” said Widdifield. “Right now we are fortunate to have received battery-assisted trail riders, so that when we’re on a hilly hike like up Mount Boucherie, it doesn’t take as many people to pull uphill. Then those volunteers are freed up to do more trips with other participants.”