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CRIS Adaptive : Breaking Down Barriers to Outdoor Recreation & Sport for People of all Abilities
By Laura McEwan

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Can you tell us about the history of your organization?

For 22 years, CRIS Adaptive has been dedicated to creating opportunities for outdoor recreation for individuals and groups who face physical, cognitive, intellectual, and sensory challenges and disabilities, regardless of other background factors such as age, identity, or socioeconomic factors. We focus on acknowledging certain adaptations and accommodation needs to maximize ability, independence, and to gain the physical, emotional, mental, and social benefits from outdoor recreation. Our programs are developed to promote independence, assist with integration, reduce isolation, and improve mental well-being of these individuals. Our mission is to ensure that persons living with disabilities have access to the outdoors and the opportunity to live a fulfilling life in a safe and equitable wellness-based community.

How do you determine which adaptive activities to offer and what makes them accessible to individuals with disabilities?

We determine which adaptive activities to offer based on the community and client needs. We take advantage of what the beautiful Okanagan valley has to offer for recreation activities year-round, such as a vast number of hiking and biking trails, local lakes, and winter nordic clubs. Our adaptive adventures are made possible through a combination of the right people, experience and our large fleet of adaptive equipment. Our staff and volunteers are offered extensive training in facilitating adaptive activities to people living with disabilities. We have over 22 years experience providing adaptive recreation in our community and beyond. CRIS Adaptive has the largest fleet of adaptive equipment in interior BC.

  • The TrailRider is a lightweight, one-wheeled, environmentally friendly access vehicle that is maneuvered by a pilot and a sherpa (one who pulls and one who pushes). The TrailRider can take people with disabilities through virtually any terrain – from gentle walking paths to rugged mountain trails. The TrailRider is extremely comfortable and adaptable making it an excellent piece of equipment for almost any need.
  • CRIS owns a vast number of unique, and adapted cycles that enable everyone to experience the joy and sensation of cycling. Our fleet includes single & tandem recumbents, hand cycles, e-assist single & tandem uprights, recumbent electric bike, and a Bowhead Reach mountain bike.
  • Our tandem and single sea kayaks can be outfitted with state-of-the art pontoons (an outrigger system) that greatly increase the kayak’s stability! Some of these kayaks have also been adapted and modified to have larger cockpits providing an easier and more comfortable means of transfer. Air bags and various pieces of foam are utilized to provide additional support and comfort for participants. Wheelchair inserts and adaptive seat backs are all part of the gear that CRIS uses to make trips comfortable.The “One-Arm-Rigger” can be mounted to the cockpit of a participant’s kayak and functions as an assisted device if they are wanting to paddle.
  • Paddle boards have recently been added to our inventory of watersport equipment. Wide, stable, and with seats available, these boards provide another fun way to get out on the lake in the summer.
  • In the winter, we offer Nordic sit-skiing as well as snowshoeing with a snow sled called a Pulk.

Can you walk us through the process of how someone can get involved and participate in your programs?

Participants first start by determining which of our programs most interest them. Our Adaptive Adventures are urban, daytime guided programs, are around 2 hours in length and are staffed by knowledgeable volunteers who are able to give as much (or as little) support as desired. To participate in these programs, a person would go to our website, become a member by contacting our office through email or phone, and filling out paperwork needed. Once their membership fees are paid, they can then sign up for programs on our calendar.

Accessible Wilderness Expeditions (AWE) are once-in-a-lifetime excursions guided and staffed by knowledgeable wilderness guides and volunteers. These are custom trips designed for the individual’s desires from hunting and fishing to glacier climbing and white water rafting. To begin the process of planning a trip, a person would email the AWE program director through our website.

Finally, Adaptive Rentals is for independent adventure and works much like any other bike rental service (though we offer cycles, TrailRiders, and paddle boards). A person would contact us with an equipment request and then pay for the time needed.

How does your organization collaborate with other disability organizations and resources in the community?

Our organization offers partnered programming with other organizations such as Canucks Autism Network and Spinal Cord Injury BC among others. We collaborate in offering programs specifically for members of these organizations so their members can further bond through peer support and shared experiences that these organizations would not be able to provide otherwise.

Can you talk about any challenges you face in providing adaptive activities and how you overcome them?

Many of our challenges stem from the overall decline in volunteerism in Canada. We have a small team of staff who are able to facilitate some of our activities and we are able to bring on summer staff through the Canadian Summer Jobs program to increase our manpower during our busiest months, but the heart of our organization are volunteers. We rely on our volunteers to increase the number of participants and opportunities we are able to facilitate. We have yet to find a way to truly overcome this, but we strive to continue volunteer outreach, maintain our volunteers and give incentive for volunteers to become “trip leaders.” Within CRIS, “trip leaders” are volunteers or staff who undergo additional training to be able to lead activities and are responsible for the group’s safety on a trip.

Does your organization involve families and caregivers in the programs and activities offered – if so, how?

We always welcome family members and caregivers to come along on experiences, we just ask to be notified ahead so we can ensure we have equipment (for example cycles) if needed. We want to give shared experiences to families and support networks.

Can you share a success story of someone who has participated in your programs?

Here are some testimonials from our participants:

  • “I have been struggling with depression, and it really lifted my mood. It reminded me that I am NOT just a random collection of illnesses, but a person of strength and worth. It made me want to be stronger and more active physically, and it fed my soul.”
  • “I have never met a more capable and dependable group of people, but beyond that, the experience heals the spirit. This trip sounded impossible to me, but it all happened and I got to explore Desolation Sound in a kayak. I would go anywhere in the world with CRIS, and still feel like a person instead of a disability.”
  • “My world had been shrinking daily as I thought I couldn’t do much anymore. This trip expanded my world and gave me hope for the future.

Crying as we paddled along a cloud-filled lake at the beauty and stillness I thought I could never experience again, the joy of freedom!   I could do things again and the hope and realization that I could experience them again has changed me forever.

A feeling of debt and gratitude that I can never begin to repay to the wonderful people who made this trip possible.

Thank you for changing my attitude toward life.”

How can the community support your mission?

The community can support CRIS in a number of ways. First is through volunteering with CRIS. We are always looking for reliable volunteers in the Okanagan region to help facilitate our programs. We offer all training necessary.

Another way is by donating to CRIS. We are a non-profit organization and we rely on donations and grants to fund our activities. We have a donate button on our website and we host a number of fundraisers throughout the year. This summer we will be hosting the Boucherie Grind™, a race to the summit of Mt Boucherie, as well as the Adaptive Amazing Race, a series of tasks teams must complete using our adaptive equipment. Members of the public are encouraged to sign up for these events, but there is  also an option to donate to these fundraisers to support our mission.

A third way is quite simple, follow us on social media (both Facebook and Instagram @CRISadaptive) and interact with our content. This helps us get exposure needed to market our programming to both participants and volunteers.

How does your organization measure its impact and success in serving individuals with disabilities through adaptive activities?

We measure our impact and successes through a number of different markers. First we track all activities. In 2022 our clients spent 2777 hours outside over 1390 trips. This was facilitated by 2788 volunteer hours. We are able to know detailed statistics such as this through our administration organization.

But we also don’t measure success merely by numbers, but instead the deep impact outdoor accessible recreation can have on an individual’s physical and mental health and how these benefits can extend to families and communities. Through testimonials and impact stories we have learned how our programs improve behavior, increase independence and overall improve mood. We can even have an impact on how a person views their disability and quality of life.

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