Scuba diving is an amazing sport for everyone. Even more especially so for those with physical disabilities. The weightlessness provides an incredible sense of well-being and freedom, as you and your “buddy” explore the underwater world together.
Those with a wide range of mobility challenges are able to master the key skills needed for scuba diving, such as buoyancy control, and don’t require any special diving qualifications beyond what is required for able bodied divers. Indeed, unlike other sports, there isn’t necessarily any additional equipment required to help those with disabilities go diving; the equipment is essentially the same. There are however specially adapted equipment for certain disabilities should they be required, such as webbed gloves for divers with limited or no use of their legs to be able to move quicker and with greater confidence through the water, as well as more mechanised propulsion aids. Those who ordinarily may need support of a wheelchair or mobility aid, can leave them behind, kit up and dive beneath the water, visiting beautiful coral reefs and mysterious shipwrecks and marvel in the wonderful marine life found beneath the waves. It can even be a kind of therapy.
Along the WILDSEA Atlantic Ocean Heritage (WAOH) Route, there are dive operators and dive centres that cater for those with disabilities. Below are some of the wonderful opportunities available for diving for all in Europe along the WAOH Route, and at the end of this article are links to some of the fantastic organisations that provide more information on accessible diving, including helping you locate instructors trained in disabled diving both before you go on a diving holiday and while you’re there.
Image: Ponta da Passagem in Sesimbra (Portugal)
Sesimbra & Cascais (Portugal)
In Portugal there are more than 40 instructors qualified with Disabled Divers International. Sesimbra, just south of Lisbon, is considered one of the most accessible areas in the country for diving for physically disabled people, as this excellent video shows. One of the main centres for disabled diving in Sesimbra is the Haliotis Diving Center, which has the largest open water scuba instructor team in Portugal. Sesimbra is in a huge south-facing bay and as the prevailing weather is from the north, it is very sheltered throughout the year. Haliotis runs open water dives in the Marine Park Professor Luiz Saldanha (an area of 52 square kilometres) along the south coast of the Setúbal Peninsula between the Serra da Arrábida and Cape Espichel. It is part of the Arrábida Natural Park, which is part of the European conservation network Natura 2000. Haliotis also runs dive trips in other areas of Portugal, such as Peniche (just north of Lisbon) and Porto in the north of Portugal, including a DDI instructor training course for those wanting to gain experience in diving with disabled people as well as a DDI Try Scuba Diving course for those with disabilities, including those with cerebral palsy as well as those with different cognitive impairments.
Just west of Lisbon is Praia da Duquesa, also known as "Redondo" or "House reef", which is regarded as the most easily accessible place in Cascais. It is also south facing and so is well sheltered from the prevailing North and Northwest winds, and has good visibility and so is a great place to go for try dives and refresh dives (as well as for night dives). During the bathing season, there is a "Beach for Everyone" programme that includes facilities for those with physical disabilities, such as amphibious tricycles.
Further north along the WAOH Route there are more opportunities for accessible diving. In Galicia, the Ria de Arousa estuary has lots of sheltered spots. Salvora, one of the groups of islands that make up Galicia's Atlantic Islands National Park, is also known for its pale sandy beaches and clear waters, and it’s a great place to appreciate the abundant marine environment, including octopus, cuttlefish and conger eels. Buceo Wayuu in Sanxenxo is a Aqualung Partner diving center offering fun dives and PADI courses that is fully geared up to provide accessible diving opportunities.
Image: Diving around Ons island in Galicia (Spain)
If you would like to learn more about more diving for all opportunities along the WAOH! Route, drop us a line and we will happily get back to you with additional information.
Interested in learning more about Diving with Disabilities? Here are some basic, great resources:
Both PADI and BSAC run courses for instructors as well as qualified divers to learn tools and approaches to diving with people with disabilities:
- PADI’s Adaptive Techniques speciality course is a teaching programme for PADI Divemasters or PADI Master Freedivers (who have completed EFR Primary and Secondary Care course) to learn special techniques to apply when training and diving with physically and mentally challenged divers, including counselling student divers, based on their abilities, toward PADI certification. It also runs a PADI Adaptive Support Diver programme for PADI Open Water Divers or PADI Freedivers to teach them how to best support a dive buddy who has a physical or mental challenge: https://www.padi.com/courses/adaptive-support-diver. Both courses are for those divers who have completed the EFR Primary and Secondary Care course within 24 months.
- BSAC’s Diving for All programme includes a course designed to prepare instructors to teach diving to people with disabilities in their club or diving centre.
- BSAC’s Dive Managers and Buddies Course is for qualified divers to enhance their buddy and dive management skills to dive safely people with disabilities.
Handicaped Scuba Association is a network of over 5,000 specially trained instructors and dive buddies that can help facilitate diving for disabled people in 45 countries. An example of a diving centre in the UK that runs HSA courses is Divability, which is “committed to enabling people who have disabilities or disadvantages to discover the adventurous world of scuba diving.” Its motto is 'breaking barriers with bubbles’ and runs ‘try scuba diving’ courses that give disabled people who have never dived before with the confidence to take it on. They can also advise on specially adapted equipment, should it be required. Its 3-day HSA course provides instructors with relevant medical information on disabilities - what they are and how they relate to diving - followed by a series of confined and open water exercises, designed to simulate disabilities.
Disabled Divers International is a not for profit organization that aims “to promote, develop and conduct disabled scuba diving training programs for professional and non-professional students”. All board members are volunteers, dedicated to promoting and developing disabled scuba diving internationally. It was founded in 2010 and there are now DDI professionals and DDI Dive Centres in 58 countries.
International Association for Handicapped Divers, based in The Netherlands, was founded in 1993 to promote scuba diving courses for children and adults with physical and mental disabilities worldwide. It also inspects dive sites and facilities to see if they are suitable to serve with adapted alternative tourism services. Its ultimate aim is “to enable people with disabilities to enjoy the same level of quality (dive) training programs, certifications and diving adventures as people with no disability”.
The Scuba Trust is a charity that has over the past 21 years helped over 700 people with disabilities to learn to dive (using PADI Adaptive Techniques and BSAC Diving For All).