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Q and A with our staff

Our staff was recently interviewed for an “Ask the Expert” article through The Guild for Human Services on the benefits of outdoor adventure and exploration within the world of Intellectual Disability. Below are the responses from our Program Staff: Carly Steinauer, Rob Dunn, and Theresa Scott.

Can you start by providing a little bit about your mission and programs? 


Waypoint Adventure’s mission is to challenge youth and adults with disabilities to discover their purpose, talents and strengths through the transforming power of adventure. We provide 11 different program types, serving individuals ages 6 and up through all seasons. We partner with schools, group homes, community groups and service agencies, and with the general public to deliver accessible adventure education experiences. Examples of goals we emphasize in our program lesson plans include things like teamwork, communication, perseverance, challenge, growth, decision making, and community among others. Our programs are made accessible through considering both cognitive and physical supports needed.    


The article highlights how engaging in outdoor experiences can increase autonomy and a sense of personal agency. How do you see this growth on your trips? 


At Waypoint, we like to think our trip leaders are not just tour guides, but educators. We facilitate adventure activities, but also aim to teach the skills needed to be as independent as possible in those activities. And that looks different for everyone! This allows them to be part of the adventure, not just a spectator. We encourage all participants to engage and learn to their level of comfort. We also encourage reflection as part of our programs. Often, we hear from folks that they achieved something that they initially did not think was possible for them or expressed doubt in at the beginning of a program. Here’s one concrete example of autonomy and growth we’ve seen:


o     We began working with a student with autism about four years ago when he came on a kayaking program with his school. During the first year, the student’s challenge was just to touch the boat. Over the course of four years, this student sat in a boat on land, then tolerated being in a boat on water for a few minutes, then held a paddle, and eventually, four years later, was able to sit in a boat for two hours and paddle along a river with a group.


What, in your mind, are the greatest benefits of adventuring outside for folks with intellectual and developmental disabilities? 


The benefits that folks with disabilities experience from adventure is the same as the benefits folks without disabilities experience. The opportunity to do something outside of your comfort zone, connect with your natural surroundings, and be in community with others inevitably leads to personal growth for all individuals. Folks with IDDs simply are not often given the tools to be included in these opportunities, which is why we believe providing access is so important!


What are some barriers in the field of outdoor education that Waypoint addresses through its programming? 


There’s a general lack of accessibility training/ knowledge on sites and among staff in the field at large due to lack of exposure to diverse needs. Many outdoor education programs around the world were designed with an ableist lens, and don’t provide a structure with which to include diverse learners. A small but important example of this is open ended, unstructured designs of teambuilding programs to encourage students to be in the moment. Often when in this setting, participants do not know what to expect or when to expect it. At Waypoint, we try to include elements of universal design for learning in lesson planning; for example, we start every program by reviewing a schedule of events with visual and written aids.


How do Waypoint’s programs promote teamwork and community-building among participants? 


There is an aspect of teamwork and community on every Waypoint program. Sometimes it is more obvious, like the challenge of riding a tandem bicycle with a partner or paddling a tandem kayak together. Participants can experience in real time how teamwork can lead to success. One way we build community is through our opening circles that we do at the beginning of each program where each person is greeted and engages in a question of the day.


Do you have a favorite memory from one of your trips? 


Yes, from this winter! Ryan C had gone skiing with us previously. He showed up for the second time feeling very nervous and doubting his ability. He started first using a ski walker, then progressed to holding a ski pole to keep balance, and finally, when he felt confident enough, he was able to hold two ski poles and ski through the course independently. You could see the sense of pride and accomplishment on Ryan’s face! It was great to see him progress from a place of doubting himself to doing something challenging, independently.


Another is working with Christian D. We know he enjoys doing outdoor activities with Waypoint, but don’t typically hear him express that on programs. After one adventure, we received this email from his Program Coordinator.

·     I wanted to share how excited Christian was with today’s session. He is a guy who just loves to be challenged and he came home saying how much he cannot wait for his next Waypoint activity.  Waypoint gives him the opportunity to try things I think no one would imagine before getting to know Christian he would be capable of. Thanks to your team for giving him the opportunity.


It’s very special when we get to see/ hear about the impact that adventures have on someone after the program is over and they go home.

To see the article from The Guild, click here. Thank you to our Senior Program Coordinator Carly Steinauer, Program Coordinator Rob Dunn, and Program Coordinator Theresa Scott for their reflection on this important topic.