Because water reduces or eliminates mobility problems for swimmers and people with disabilities, scuba diving can be accomplished with few modifications. A diver who is disabled can swim right along with a non-disabled diver and receive the pleasure of equality. Scuba represents a non-confined and gravity-free atmosphere. The effort to become certified can raise self-esteem and confidence.
Diving Categories for people with disabilities
A diver with a disability must be certified; this is also a requirement for a diver without a disability. The Handicapped Scuba Association (HSA) is a certifying agency in conjunction with PADI and NAUI certification programs. For Confined Water Diver, Open Water Diver and Advanced Open Water Diver categories, there are 3 levels that follow the diver’s performances and abilities:
The diving student has performed all Physical Performance Requirements and demonstrates the ability to provide equal assistance to a fellow diver if a distress situation should occur and assistance is required. This diving student may dive with any other certified adult diver.
The diving student has performed the Physical Performance Requirements demonstrating the ability of self-help in a distress situation. However, the diving student does not have the ability to provide assistance to a fellow diver in a distress situation. Therefore, in order that equal assistance be available to all divers in a distress situation, it is required that this diver must dive with two adult certified divers one of whom has been trained as a Dive Partner or a professional member of the International Association of Handicapped Divers [IAHD]
The diving student has completed the dive course and has performed the ability to safely use scuba diving equipment underwater. However, the diving student does not have the ability for self-help, nor is able to assist a fellow diver in a distress situation. This diving student is required to dive with three adult certified divers, one of whom has been trained as a professional member of the IAHD.
Skin Protection: Reduced circulation, lack of sensation, or lack of movement can lead to skin breakdown. It is advised that carpet strips be used on decks and rocky shorelines to protect skin on hand and feet. Feet should be covered with diving boots or other foot coverings and other sensitive extremities should be covered. (see Infinitec)
Depth of water and water pressure may increase the effects of certain medications to the point that it is not possible to safely participate in scuba diving. Medication and medical history is usually discussed in the first scuba class and individuals must consult their personal physicians about any safety concerns.
Before anyone begins a scuba certification program, a full medical exam with chest x-rays must be taken. Contraindications do exist for some types of disabilities. Certain pulmonary conditions can affect air trapping, heart conditions and even convulsive disorders. You must check with your physician. (see Infinitec)
Individuals who have trouble with temperature regulation (quadriplegics, paraplegics, individuals with cerebral palsy, etc.) should always wear a wet suit in cold waters. A dry suit offers even more protection in extremely cold water, as it doesn’t allow water to come between your skin and suit, as a conventional wet suit does. (see Infinitec)
Adaptive Scuba Associations
- National Instructors Association for Divers with Disabilities
- Underwater Schools of America Scuba
- International Association for Handicapped Divers
Adaptive Scuba Clubs
Eels on Wheels Adaptive Scuba Club, located in Austin Texas
Adaptive Scuba Web Sites
This content was created by Danny Barentine,
Physical Educator, Dallas Independent School District, while taking
“Aquatics for Special Populations”, Summer, 2004.
page last updated 8/16/2016 11:03 AM