(Last Updated On: April 9, 2018)

Most dive professionals have worked with at least one diver with a challenge. They may struggle to remove or replace a mask underwater or be unable equalize. Some divers struggle to calculate repetitive no-decompression limits. Good dive instructors therefore adapt their approach and techniques to help their students overcome these hurdles. The same ethos can apply when it comes to training as an adaptive scuba diving instructor.

Many dive instructors are nervous or intimated by training divers with more obvious challenges such as dyslexia, or an amputee or paraplegic student. Studies show, however, just how many benefits divers with mental and physical challenges get from the sport. Because of that, interested dive instructors can take specialized training so they can their lessons to divers with disabilities.

The benefits of scuba diving increase exponentially for disabled divers, who underwater may no longer feel physical and gravitational restraints. Many veterans with PTSD also enjoy the serenity and peacefulness of scuba diving. If a doctor has medically cleared an individual, he can enroll in a course. He can earn the full certification after full completion of course-performance requirements. Divers with physical and mental disabilities who cannot complete all course-performance requirements may be able to take discover-type programs. This way they can still enjoy scuba diving with higher levels of supervision.

Adaptive instructor training 

Many agencies offer certified scuba instructors training that takes between one and three days to complete. It addresses different conditions and their relationship to scuba diving, which could include paralysis, amputation, mental challenges such as PTSD, dyslexia, deafness, multiple sclerosis, muscular fibrosis, and epilepsy.

During instructor training, you’ll address some common disabilities and how to adapt your approach. You’ll challenge your mindset when it comes to teaching. You’ll look at differences in entry and exit techniques while preserving the dignity of the diver. You can adapt many skill-performance requirements without compromising the integrity of the exercise, such as alternate-air sharing with different securing methods and modifying equipment to include webbed swim gloves so a paraplegic diver can safely swim up to the surface.

Training agencies

Traditional adaptive training agencies such as the Handicapped Scuba Association (HAS) and International Association for Handicapped Divers (IAHD) designate divers with disabilities all the way from those who are self-sufficient and can assist a buddy to those who require multiple buddies, including a trained adaptive professional. HSA, IAHD and, since late 2017, PADI all offer training courses for divers who wish to partner/buddy as an adaptive partner for someone with a disability. Instructors and other dive professionals can receive adaptive training anywhere along the spectrum.

In addition to covering knowledge-development topics, part of the learning process will include empathy-based training. Here, instructors will experience scuba diving from a disabled diver’s perspective. Many will have to learn to adjust their trim and buoyancy without the use of their legs, for example. You may also dive in a blacked-out mask to understand the dependency a disable diver may feel. Your adaptive instructor-trainer may also have you assemble your gear using just one hand or attempt to give a role-model demonstration of regulator recovery and clear with your left arm. Doing so will help you put yourself in your students’ shoes as an adaptive scuba diving instructor.

Utila Dive Center has integrated the PADI/IAHD Adaptive Instructor program into its instructor-development training and in the next article will examine considerations as a dive buddy for someone with physical/mental challenges.

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