Let It Snow! AT for Winter Fun

By Lesley Nesmith, MA, OTR/L, ATP

Get Ready, Set, Snow! Winter sports enthusiasts embrace all that Mother Nature has to offer, whether a snow capped mountain, a frozen ice rink, or the backyard. Snow skiing, ice skating and sledding are winter activities enjoyed by many, including people with disabilities. Good equipment and smart preparation help ensure safe winter fun.

There are many adaptive equipment options available for skiers with disabilities. Skiers with lower body limitations (e.g., double leg amputation, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis) may use a mono-ski or bi-ski. Individuals sit in a seat mounted to a single ski or to two skis and use hand-held outriggers. The mono-ski requires greater balance and strength than the bi-ski. Skiers with upper body limitations may be able to use a prosthetic device for skiing that fits a standard prosthetic wrist and allows bending at the elbow. This can be used for both downhill and cross-country skiing. Blind skiers can race with a guide. As snowboarding is becoming more popular, adaptive braces and riggings have been developed so that people with partial paralysis and amputations can experience this sport. 

For ice skaters with disabilities, walkers and adaptive skates are available. Different types of walkers can support skaters who are able to bear weight for a limited time and those who have no ability to bear weight. There are adaptive ice skates for children and adults that can accommodate people who wear an ankle-foot orthosis and those who have a club foot. Some public rinks have ice sleds with a bar for pushing. Speaking of sleds, neighborhood snow sledding is great fun for all. Sleds that have a backrest, head support, padded seat and safety straps can enable children with disabilities to enjoy a snow day. Online you can find several models for sale as well as tips for building your own adapted sled.

AT can be used to improve all aspects of life, from work, school, and therapeutic sports to recreational activities. AbleData is a national resource for objective assistive technology (AT) information supported by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research in the U.S. Department of Education. It contains descriptions of over 20,000 commercially available products of all kinds. Visit AbleData to find adaptive equipment that helps people with disabilities enjoy their favorite sports and outdoor leisure activities safely.  

In addition to good equipment, winter athletes need to prepare for cold weather. Wearing the appropriate amount of clothing is vital for someone who has difficulty maintaining a steady body temperature due to disability. Athletes who are under dressed and exposed to winter elements for a prolonged period of time are at risk of developing hypothermia (a condition in which the body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a very low body temperature). Make sure you prepare with the proper clothing before you go out and recognize the early symptoms of hypothermia (http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypothermia/basics/symptoms/CON-20020453).

Winter athletes (especially skiers at higher altitudes) are particularly vulnerable to dehydration. Athletes need to consume fluids to replace the water vapor (“steam”) that is released while breathing.  Spectators also need to drink water. It is best to drink a warm liquid that has been stored in an insulated bottle. Sports enthusiasts can prolong the warmth of their beverages by covering the container in a wool sock.

With these handy tips, you too can enjoy winter fun! To speak to an Information Specialist at AbleData about selecting appropriate assistive technologies please call: 1-800-227-0216.

To find out more about winter sports programs and resources, please visit the following websites:

National Sports Center for the Disabled: http://www.nscd.org/nscd-winter-metro-programs.php  

LOF Adaptive Skiers: http://lofadaptiveskiers.org/programs/  

Disabled World: http://www.disabled-world.com/sports/snow/

Lesley Nesmith, MA, OTR/L, ATP is an Occupational Therapist and Assistive Technology Specialist who works on the AbleData project.