Finally, spring has come. Some outdoor enthusiasts, including those with vision loss, are storing away their snow skis and switching over to warm weather activities like tandem biking and hiking. These adaptive recreational opportunities—and more—are offered across Wisconsin, several of them by Blind Outdoor Leisure Development, Inc., or BOLD.
BOLD’s purpose is to offer people who are blind and visually impaired opportunities to experience year-round, outdoor sports and leisure activities, all while developing new social and athletic skills. Although activities are primarily set in southeast Wisconsin, BOLD experiences are made possible with the support of over 100 individual Lions Clubs. The organization takes a “whole family” approach, offering programming for 6-year-olds up to adults of all ages. All activities are offered for free, including transportation costs. “People are astonished to learn this is true and often don’t believe it,” says BOLD President Ray Tweedale.
BOLD offers over 25 summer and winter activities, with new events offered almost every other weekend. Warm weather activities include bike rides, picnics, swimming, canoeing, zip lining, roller skating and more.
In addition to the fitness benefits of adaptive sports programs, the events can be a perfect platform to bring sighted and non-sighted communities together. Take a recent BOLD event in southeast Wisconsin. The leadership at the area archery club was a bit perplexed when Ray first reached out to coordinate a combined target shooting event for people without impaired vision together with folks with vision loss. “And then they went all out to adapt their equipment and methods to make it a fun experience,” he says.
Significantly, the adaptations Ray speaks of came about through communication between participants with vision loss and the club’s members whose vision is not impaired. The collaboration, Ray says, “really knocked down the mystique about people who are blind or visually impaired not being able to do such things…. I could cite similar adaptation experiences in the gun shooting, motorcycle ride, curling, bowling, and skiing events we do.”
Amy Ziegelbauer is Madison School and Community Recreation’s (MSCR) Fitness and Arts Field Supervisor. She says peer experience within a group of participants with disabilities is also valuable. “Participants often experience improved social, emotional and physical well-being,” Amy says. “Adapted recreation creates a special support system among those with disabilities where they can belong to a community of peers who truly understand them. It breaks down barriers and removes social pressures, creating a safe, welcoming, inclusive environment.”
Adaptive rec programs will often connect to competitive sports opportunities for participants. “We recently started an adapted bowling league which has been extremely popular,” Amy says. “We’re currently working with Special Olympics Wisconsin to have our league participate in Special Olympics competition,” she adds.
MSCR offers a variety of spring and summer adaptive rec opportunities that includes swimming, paddling, dance, climbing and yoga. “Our City Club is another highly popular program,” Amy adds. “It’s a social group that gathers each week to enjoy crafts, games, group activities and field trips. It is a great place for people to come be with peers and try out new leisure activities.”
In Milwaukee there’s an adaptive rec program that includes sailing on Lake Michigan. The Wil-O-Way sailing program is sponsored by Milwaukee County Office for Persons with Disabilities in partnership with the Milwaukee Community Sailing Center. Wil-O-Way activities are geared toward recreational opportunities that all people should be able to enjoy. According to the website, their programs, “enhance self-sufficiency, personal safety, economic opportunity and quality of life for all people with disabilities.”
The Discover Wisconsin website lists adaptive outdoor adventure destinations in state parks and beaches around the state. Including skydiving! You can find that information at Tinyurl.com/Travel-WI-6-Activities.