The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) did an awful lot to expand the number of opportunities available to people with disabilities in everything from employment to accessing public services. It also helped change the way people with disabilities see themselves. They began to see themselves as capable of doing anything they want to do, with adaptations made for their disabilities. Sailing is a great example.

If you are someone without any personal experience with physical or mental disabilities, you may not view sailing as an activity that disabled people would be interested in. But nothing could be further from the truth. Sailing is one of only a small number of sports that allow people with disabilities to compete on a level playing field against more able-bodied sailors. Any adaptations made to accommodate a disabled sailor in no way give him or her an advantage over able-bodied. Adaptations simply level the playing field.

The Benefits of Sailing to the Disabled

People living with disabilities often feel like they are abnormal. In reality, they are just different. Getting involved in something like sailing drives that point home. Disabled people have their own abilities that manifest themselves in ways that are different. No matter how they manifest themselves, the abilities are still there. Learning to sail makes that clear.

People with physical disabilities can learn every aspect of sailing alongside more able-bodied sailors. They can learn how to trim sails and tack. They can learn how to navigate both on the open water and in a harbor setting. They can even learn the various crew positions on larger vessels, then fill those positions with the right kinds of adaptations.

All of this is good inasmuch as it allows disabled sailors to push themselves to their own limits. It allows them to excel and compete. Nothing boosts confidence in a disabled person more than these kinds of opportunities.

People with learning disabilities can also learn to sail as well. Indeed, there are sailing schools around the U.S. that specialize in teaching developmentally disabled kids and adults alike. Sailing instruction is used as both an educational and a therapeutic tool. Some of the best sailors among them go on to be competitive sailors.

Starting with Online School

If there is any disadvantage the disabled experience in learning to sail it is the fact that not every school in America is equipped to help them. That’s changing, but there is still a long way to go before adaptive sailing is mainstream. That means disabled sailors have to be more selective in the schools they choose.

The good news is that they can use online sailing courses to get the book work done prior to beginning hands-on training. NauticEd, one of the largest and most recognized online sailing schools in the world, offers a full litany of courses that any sailor can take to prepare him or herself for on-the-water training.

Studying online affords disabled sailors the opportunity to complete their coursework on their own time, in whatever location makes them comfortable. They can study at their own pace, too. The disabled sailor can take as long as he or she needs to finish a course, pass a test, and move onto the next one. Only when the person knows he or she is ready will he/she move on to hands-on training.

Thanks to the ADA and a growing awareness of the challenges those with disabilities face, sailing is becoming a sport that more disabled people are taking up. The boat doesn’t care whether a disabled sailor is on board, so why should sailors? They don’t. And that’s a good thing.

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