‘Embracing Differences:’ Organizations Team Up to Create Adaptive Skating Manual

By Mimi McKinnis

Mindy Angell (center) demonstrates a dip for the Learn to Skate USA instructors at an adaptive skating session in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Photo by Barb Reichert

Mindy Angell (center) demonstrates a dip for the Learn to Skate USA instructors at an adaptive skating session in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Photo by Barb Reichert

The vision: Every person, regardless of ability, has an equal opportunity to participate in sports and recreation in their community.

Through ice skating, individuals with disabilities are encouraged to develop independence, confidence and physical fitness through participation in sport. With this in mind, Disabled Sports USA, Learn to Skate USA, powered by Toyota, and U.S. Figure Skating joined forces to create the new Adaptive Skating Manual, designed to help skating programs integrate or expand opportunities for adaptive skaters within their existing class structure.

“The ice is for everyone, and we want to share the joys of skating,” Susi Wehrli McLaughlin, U.S. Figure Skating senior director of membership, said. “We’re on a mission to instill a lifelong love of skating in each participant, and we want to make sure all of our clubs and programs are properly equipped to meet individuals where they are, regardless of whether or not they have a disability.”

Since ice skating is an individual sport, participants can progress at their own rate according to their ability, but since it’s also a social sport, skating creates a fun learning environment and friendships through shared interest and experience. Research even proves that daily physical activity raises self-esteem, develops peer relationships, enhances overall health and improves quality of life. While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) greatly expanded the opportunities and protections for people with disabilities — including ensuring access to sports facilities and instruction — through the new Adaptive Skating Manual, each of the three organizations involved in its creation hope to make “the vision” a reality.

“There are still not nearly enough trained instructors and adaptive equipment nationally to serve the millions of people with a disability,” Julia Ray, programs director at Disabled Sports USA, said. “Training instructors at clubs across the country is a huge step in the right direction. Instructors who expand their skill set in this way make skating possible for an individual who may otherwise have never enjoyed the thrill of gliding on the ice.”

Making skating possible for a whole new community holds mutual benefits, creating opportunity for participants and programs alike. And while it’s a daunting task, it’s an undertaking John O’Connor, chair of U.S. Figure Skating’s Special Olympics/Adaptive Skating Committee, believes is worth the challenge.

“I think that any club looking into starting an Adaptive Skating program should consider how the benefits will often outweigh the costs associated with it,” O’Connor said. “Not only are these programs aiding skaters with special needs, but they also foster goodwill for the clubs that offer, support and promote them. It’s a good way of giving back to the community at large and a win-win situation.”

Available under the Special Olympics/Adaptive Skating link in the Programs tab of usfigureskating.org, the Adaptive Skating Manual takes the guess work out of the process, preemptively tackling potential roadblocks and questions to make the development or expansion of adaptive skating programs a simple, step-by-step process. Programs can find detailed information on etiquette, communication, accessibility and instruction specifically as each topic relates to disabled participants, as well as examples of skater health and physical ability assessments.

For more on adaptive skating, read the May issue of SKATING magazine.