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Choosing Equipment

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Why getting the right kit can make all the difference to independence

If you were at the National Sailability Conference in February you might have met Suresh Paul. 

For those of you who weren’t Suresh is the founder and director of the Highlands-based Equal Adventure, whose mission is to inspire and resource outdoor adventure, sport and active lifestyles with disabled people. 

In short, he can help you identify what is the right equipment for what you do.

Assessing the needs of each person that comes sailing with you isn’t always easy. But with over 20 years’ experience working with Sailability and designing kit to support sailing independence, Suresh and his team have done the head scratching for you.   

Joff McGill, Sailability Manager, explains: “Think about an activity you run. Now think if you were starting it from scratch what questions might you ask about the equipment you may need? How can you assess the needs of each individual?

"The Equal Adventure approach is to ask what would you need to consider in terms of enabling better support, posture, communication, sensory experience, control and dignity, for example, to promote greater independence for each sailor? Where can you find information on what is the right equipment to use? 

“We invited Suresh to the conference to help groups think about the role equipment has to play in getting people afloat, and to also appreciate how volunteers can gain the skills, confidence and understanding of when to use which piece of equipment.”

Bringing equal adventure

Suresh’s mantra is ‘function first’; so when thinking about what equipment you might need, looking at it in terms of function and what an individual can physically do, not what disability the medical world or society says they have.

With Suresh’s own background in outdoor adventure, technical design and Doctoral research, Equal Adventure seeks to support the aspirations of individuals through promoting independent moving techniques, dignity and control. 

In terms of sailing that goes back as far as 1995, when with Paralympian Mike Browne he developed a range of postural supports, he wrote the original Sailability Equipment Directory, while more recently he has worked closely with David Hill, the RYA Sailability Development Coordinator for Scotland, at Clyde Muirshiel to design adaptive equipment for different boats.

Suresh said: “When we are thinking about resourcing, the equipment and approach needs to protect the confidence of the sailor, not shine a spotlight on them.

“Sailing is already a pretty inclusive sport. Using the right adaptive equipment with each sailor promotes greater inclusion and independence and it broadens the opportunities open to them, as it levels the playing field even further.”

Identifying your equipment needs

To help clubs identify what they might not even know could help them, Equal Adventure has produced an equipment framework categorising the types of kit they have developed.

These categories are:

  • Communication and sensory learning - supporting visual, auditory, kinaesthetic and tactile communication for instructors/volunteers and sailors.

  • Function - focusing on the functional abilities of an individual, subdivided into i) pads and protection, ii) trunk and postural support and iii) hand and arm function.

  • Personal experience – promoting dignity whilst understanding personal needs and supporting individuals to remain in control of their decision-making.

  • Mobility - enabling individuals to access and move around the activity environment and subdivided into i) independent movement and ii) assisted movement.

  • Activity and safety equipment - versatile solutions to accommodate inclusive activities

At the conference Suresh focused particularly on three areas - comfortable effective hands and helming (with limited hand function), comfortable posture for performance and safe, easy access in and out of a boat. He also demonstrated some of the equipment Equal Adventure has developed to meet a range of sailing needs.

Joff continues: “It was interesting seeing how people were taking what Suresh had to say at the conference and applying it to their own circumstances.” 

Suresh explains “People were questioning if they really did need a hoist or if a slide board and stacking steps could do the same job? Or whether using postural supports in a boat meant fewer volunteers were needed to get sailors with specific needs on the water.”

“We didn’t know about this”

Suresh admits that was the comment he heard most at the Sailability Conference. 

But he was hugely encouraged by how many groups felt they could think differently about the way they use equipment in supporting the full range of mobility and functional abilities, from active and ambulant to those taking part for more experiential or sensory benefits. 

Suresh wants to involve even more groups and sailors nationwide to ensure that Equal Adventure’s sailing research and equipment development continues to support wider inclusion and independence in sailing.

He added: “Equal Adventure is only a small team of about eight people but between us we have more than 150 years’ experience of development in inclusive adventure. 

“But we need people like you to engage with us, to take advantage of the research-backed knowledge and equipment we have and to challenge us, because the only way we are going to get better at what we do is through your feedback.”   

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