Scuba diving, which has become one of the fastest-growing recreational activities in the world, is relaxing and can be enjoyed by individuals of all abilities. In the water, any limitations an individual may have can be adapted easily. Water is a great equalizer. Scuba diving may enhance free movement of a limitation and reduces the force of gravity. Muscles that may not be used every day are active underwater. Scuba diving also involves travel and adventure in exotic places, including new experiences with different cultures.
Handicapped Scuba Association
The Handicapped Scuba Association (HSA) was founded in 1981 and is now the world's leading authority on recreational diving for people with disabilities. Headquartered in California, HSA extends its underwater educational programs worldwide. HSA operates as an independent diver training and certifying agency. Its diver education programs and instructor training courses are internationally recognized and unequaled by any other programs in the industry. These programs were developed in conjunction with two major certifying agencies, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) and the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI). For more information, contact HSA.
- Wetsuits form an outer layer of protection for the body against abrasions and cuts from accidentally touching marine life. They also create barriers to heat exchange in cool water.
- Tanks come in a variety of sizes and types:
Aluminum is lightweight. When the tank becomes empty, it creates a positive buoyancy, which means it floats to the surface. Steel is heavier and always has a negative buoyancy, but is shorter and can have higher pressure and contain more air.
- Gloves act as heat insulators and skin protection. Power gloves are webbed and are used to propel divers with lower-extremity disabilities.
- Regulators are very lightweight and provide very high breathing capacity. The mouthpiece has a comfort bit to help people with partial paralysis of the face keep the regulator in place.
- Knives are typically strapped on the leg but can be adapted to the chest or arm.
- Lights can be attached to the forearm for the diver's convenience without blinding other divers.
- Weight belts provide control and balance. There are three types: Weight harness are worn around the waist. Weight belts are able to adjust during diving to maintain balance. Buoyancy control vests are integral parts of the vest and not worn on the body.
One of the biggest obstacles faced by divers with disabilities is the lack of accessibility to dive boats, pools, potential dive sites and dive shops. Fortunately, due to recent federal legislation and the increasing numbers of divers with disabilities, accessibility issues are being addressed at many diving facilities. In planning any trip, however, questions about accessibility should be addressed. The Handicapped Scuba Association and other local organizations provide lists of accessible resorts and can even plan trips to accessible locations.
HSA Physical Performance Standards
Individuals with disabilities are trained and certified using a multilevel certification system. This system is designed for training individuals with disabilities such as paraplegia, quadriplegia, visual impairments, high-functioning brain injuries, or mild retardation. HSA bases its students' diving proficiency on their ability to assist another diver in the water.
For instance, a Level A diver is certified to dive with one other person; a Level B diver must dive with two other able-bodied divers and a Level C diver also requires two dive buddies, but one must be trained in diver rescue. After meeting the requirements for basic "open water," some A, B and C divers can go on to obtain an advanced level of certification. The National Instructors Association for Divers with Disabilities (NIADD) offers a similar standard of three levels of certification training programs for individuals interested in scuba diving.
Safety concerns for scuba divers with physical disabilities are divided into two main categories. The first and most important are the standard issues of safety stressed in every scuba certification class. All divers with and without disabilities must learn about dangers and related safety techniques in these classes. The second category, personal safety issues for disabled divers, includes four areas of concern: use of medication, skin protection, pulmonary conditions and temperature regulation. The Divers Alert Network (DAN) provides excellent medical advice for various conditions; however, individuals with specific disabilities such as epilepsy, diabetes and exercise-induced asthma should get full medical clearance from their personal physicians before diving.
For More Information
e-mail American Association of Challenged Divers (613) 538-3483
Handicapped Scuba Association (949) 498-6128
International Association for Handicapped Divers (IAHD)
National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI) (800) 553-6284
National Instructors Assoc. for Divers with Disabilities(NIADD) (408) 244-4433
Open Waters (800) 640-7200
Underwater Safari's (773) 348-3999
DEMA (Diving Equipment and Marketing Association)
Rodale’s Scuba Diving Magazine
World Wide Scuba Diving Directory
DAN (Diver’s Alert Network)
The information provided here is offered as a service only. The National Center on Physical Activity and Disability, University of Illinois at Chicago, the National Center on Accessibility, and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago do not formally recommend or endorse the equipment listed. As with any products or services, consumers should investigate and determine on their own which equipment best fits their needs and budget.