It was a profound experience for Diane Morrell, the first time she donned mask and scuba tanks to delve under the surface of the water.
For someone who uses a wheelchair to get around, like Morrell does, diving offers, an incredible feeling of freedom.
Where you are in the water, thats under your control, and thats something people with disabilities dont often have control over, their own environment, said Morrell, who uses a wheelchair to get around.
Were land bound by structural barriers: curb cuts, buildings that arent very wheelchair friendly, doorways that are too small, rooms that are too small, maybe hiking trails that arent very wheelchair friendly, she said.
Now, Morrell, regional services coordinator with the Canadian Paraplegic Association’s Ontario division, is encouraging other people with disabilities to give diving a try at a free session next month.
Morrell, who has a spinal cord injury, first learned to dive two years ago. She travelled to Gatineau, Que., to work with an outfit called Freedom at Depth Canada that offers dive training to people with disabilities for about the same price a non-disabled person would pay.
Next month, the same instructors who taught Morrell to dive will come to Sault Ste. Marie to offer a taste of scuba diving.
The May 28 session at the John Rhodes Community Centre pool wont be a full-on course, but its a chance to try out scuba diving to see if it is something worth pursuing, she said.
Other people need to know about this. Other people need to know there are possibilities, she said.
Morrell said organizers need at least two participants to sign up to make the course worthwhile. Those who like it can pursue training, though she cautions those with more limiting disabilities will likely have to be willing to travel to Gatineau like she did.
Morrell has embraced diving in the last two years, and has since gone on Caribbean diving trips and during the summer dives in the St. Lawrence River.
She said the sensation she gets couldnt be further from swimming. She likens it more to what she imagine astronauts feel floating in space.
Because of that, diving offers control over ones own environment, even for those with limited muscle control.
What you do have moves so easy and youre in control of your environment with your breathing, said Morrell.
And when you need help, your diving buddy is there to offer it, she noted.
A disability itself wont limit a person from scuba diving, said Morrell.
Someone with quadriplegia can most definitely scuba dive, someone with MS can scuba dive, cerebral palsy, muscular distrophy, amputation, spinal cord injury, stroke, said Morrell.
However, she said some related medical conditions can limit who puts on a mask and regulator. For instance, a person may have a lung condition that prevents them from taking part.
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By Michael Purvis