Making climbing accessible

Adapative Climbing at Vikes Recreation

May 27, 2024

“We want to provide opportunities for people of all abilities and help make the sport feel inclusive and accessible.”

Indoor rock climbing, once perceived as an extreme sport demanding strength, agility, and a daring spirit, has evolved in recent years to embrace climbers of all abilities. While adaptive climbing isn't new or novel, it remains relatively unknown to many climbers and those aspiring to join the sport.

Clinton Thomas, climbing wall coordinator at the University of Victoria, is looking to change that by pushing the boundaries of what is possible and making the CARSA Climbing Centre accessible for all.

"We want to provide opportunities for people of all abilities and help make the sport feel inclusive and accessible. Adaptive climbing varies depending on the climber's needs, so we take a person-centred individualized approach where they take the lead, and we're just in the background to help facilitate," said Thomas.

"We're experts in climbing, but they [the climbers] are experts in their abilities and life, so it's about providing opportunities to climb and making that possible by providing specialized equipment, clear instruction, and even managing things like sensory overload," he continued.

What is adaptive climbing?

Adaptive climbing uses specialized strategies and equipment to support climbers who may experience barriers in the climbing world. Some examples include traumatic brain injuries, heart attack survivors, those with neurodiversity, cerebral palsy, and mobility impairments, as well as others.

Adaptive climbing allows individuals with disabilities to experience the physical and mental challenges and joys of climbing, promoting inclusivity within the climbing community.

Dana Arafeh, a testament to the transformative power of adaptive climbing, began her climbing journey in Ontario with the Canadian Adaptive Climbing Society. Over the years, she has not only honed her climbing skills but also become an advocate for the sport, hoping to see it flourish in Victoria.

“Climbing is for anyone and everyone, and the community is typically really tight. It’s challenging mentally because you’re trying to figure out a path, so it’s stimulating in that sense, but it also gives you a tough workout that you can adjust to your level,” said Arafeh.

CARSA’s adaptive climbing program

The CARSA Climbing Centre’s adaptive climbing program is intended to support those living with barriers to engage with climbing with the support of a highly trained team. The program offers a high staff to participant ratio so that everyone feels safe and supported in the space and have ample time to explore the wall and try the various adaptive climbing systems.

The Climbing Centre also offers a very popular adaptive kids program intended to support children and youth (ages 7-16). The seven-week series provides participants with an understanding of the systems used to support them on the wall, while also encouraging climbers to progress, grow and learn new skills in a safe and supportive environment.

“I would love to expand the kids’ program, it’s extremely popular and has about a 25-person waitlist but we’re limited by space and capacity right now,” said Thomas. “Our end goal is that those who start out in the adaptive program can come and participate on their own, without the adaptive program.”

Climbing has slowly become more accessible to people of all abilities, and the importance of adaptive programs is undeniable. These programs, along with a shift in the climbing community towards inclusivity, have helped make climbing a more welcoming and diverse space.

Adaptive climbing participant Dana Arafeh at Vikes Recreation
Adaptive climbing participant Dana Arafeh