Visually-impaired participants have been experiencing the excitement of paddling the past two weekends as Canoe Racing New Zealand embark on the testing phase of the new disability inclusion project, PaddleAble.
In collaboration with Blind Sport New Zealand, participants with a range of vision impairments took part in “Try Paddling” sessions to help CRNZ understand the barriers, constraints and solutions on how we can modify and adapt our activity to support all Kiwis to have a positive paddling experience.
This is just the beginning as the project includes working with with a variety of disability organisations, such as Regional Parafed organisations and the Halberg Foundation, to understand and cater to a range of impairments. As many as 24% of New Zealanders identify as disabled.
“We are really stoked with how these first sessions with Blind Sport NZ have gone, and it is awesome to see these new paddlers have a great time paddling.” said Aaron Osborne, PaddleAble Project Manager.
“It provided us with a greater understanding and practical ways we can better support the paddling experience, from before paddlers arrive to the session and all the way through to the on-the-water activities.
“We had to modify equipment and consider the way we deliver the paddling session, while still maintaining the integrity of our paddling programmes, although ultimately the biggest learning was that it wasn’t as daunting or as challenging as it first appeared.”
Some practical modifications included adding fluoro tape to paddles (blades and shaft) and the sides of craft, addition of indicators to the paddle shaft to assist paddlers feel the holding of the paddle and the addition of the stabilisers to the craft.
“We have spent a bit of time looking into modifications and adaptive equipment and we are really pleased in particular with how effective the stabilisers are.” said Osborne.
“They can be strapped on to any type of kayak, are adjustable to vary the stability they provide and easily removed which allows for good progression. They remove the risk of capsizing which is often the biggest concern for new paddlers and give paddlers a chance to figure out stability without swimming constantly. It gave these paddlers today the confidence to try and then we saw a couple of paddlers take them off and paddle successfully without them.”
Feedback so far has been positive.
“Jasper loved the two paddling sessions he has done and is keen to do it again” said Lisa, mother of one of the participants.
“My girls absolutely loved canoeing and Daelani came out of her shell with everyone which was amazing to see!” said Gemma, Daelani & Tayla’s mum, who is looking forward to the next session.
Casey Flood, general manager of Blind Sport New Zealand, is excited to join forces with CRNZ to ensure paddling opportunities are available to the blind, deafblind and low-vision community.
“The Try Paddling sessions provided the perfect opportunity for participants to give the sport a go within a fun and welcoming environment.” said Casey.
“The staff and coaches were clearly extremely experienced and made it a fun session that everyone enjoyed. It was incredible to see participants open up and push themselves outside of their comfort zone. We hope this will open up opportunities for more blind, deafblind and low vision participants throughout the country to go paddling.”
With this project and as part of our wider strategy, CRNZ aims to make kayaking/paddling a more disability-inclusive sport, and create sustainable change to increase the opportunities and accessibility of our sport to disabled Kiwis.
Through the development and implementation of PaddleAble, a framework to educate, guide and support clubs and coaches, we hope to increase the confidence, capability and capacity of paddling clubs and organisations around New Zealand to offer positive paddling opportunities to the 24% of New Zealanders with disabilities.
We are looking forward to continuing our practical testing with Parafed Auckland in the coming weeks, to help us further understand the needs of participants living with disabilities and how we can support them to experience and enjoy the sport we love.
Canoe Racing New Zealand’s vision is an inclusive paddling community where disabled paddlers of all abilities can participate alongside their able-bodied peers, both recreationally and at events.