Rich Humphrey’s 10-year-old son got an autism diagnosis five years ago. According to Humphrey, the diagnosis helped the family articulate the challenges their son faced. For example, the large, loud, group activities other children found exciting, he found overwhelming. A traditional kid’s ski lesson was unthinkable.
Not anymore, thanks to the Telluride Adaptive Sports Program.
Now in its 17th year, the locally-born nonprofit organization helps people with disabilities safely explore a wide array of adventure activities – in the winter, from skiing, snowboarding and even ice climbing – and everything from mountaineering to hand-cycling, horseback riding, fishing, river rafting and more over the course of the year.
Since its 1996 inception as a small nonprofit providing ski lessons to local and regional kids and adults with disabilities, the organization has expanded over time to become a frontrunner in the adaptive sports industry, providing innovative programs that help individuals with disabilities explore the Colorado outdoors.
“We’ve gained a national reputation within the industry,” said TASP Executive Director Courtney Stuecheli, pointing to such innovative programs as TASP’S Moab Mania, the only hand-cycling camp in the U.S., as well as its winter and summer programs for injured veterans. “If there’s an adventure activity an able-bodied person enjoys, TASP has embraced it and created a way for disabled people to enjoy it, too.”
This do-anything spirit is the organization’s calling card, and has led TASP to national recognition. A recent National Public Radio story focusing on new technology for the disabled included an interview with TASP Program Director Tim McGough. Thanks in large part to TASP, Telluride and Mountain Village were chosen last summer to host the No Barriers Summit, a four-day gathering of assistive- technology pioneers and disabled individuals that promotes innovation and education through clinics, symposia, expeditions and more.
The 2013 No Barriers Summit, bringing close to 500 visitors to the region, necessitated the retrofitting of several public buildings in Mountain Village with ramps, automatic doors and the like to better accommodate visitors, highlighting what TASP and its participants have known for some time: that the disabled community is a strong and viable group of consumers, who will chose their vacation destinations based on the programs and facilities made available to them. A marketing study funded by the advocacy group, Open Doors Organization, reports the disabled community now spends more than $13 billion on travel every year.
Telluride resident Ashley Bradley, a TASP volunteer for the past six years, has seen firsthand the power an organization like TASP can exert in attracting and maintaining the attention of the disabled demographic.
In her six years as one of the organization’s 153 volunteer instructors, Bradley sees families return to Telluride year after year, because TASP provides them with a rare opportunity to enjoy mountain sports with all the family members. For many years now, Bradley has volunteered with one severely disabled young girl whose family has chosen to return to Telluride again and again because their annual ski lessons with TASP offer their only opportunity for a family vacation with activities for everyone. “It is the only vehicle they have for going out and sharing the experience of being together on the mountain as a family,” Bradley said. “They say, ‘It’s a celebration when we’re all together!’”
TASP’s program for disabled veterans has added a new dimension to that organization as well, giving recently wounded combat veterans opportunities to explore new physical and psychological horizons. Last year, more than 100 veterans participated in its veterans’ program; many participants choose to return, year after year, because they find the experience of tackling sports like skiing or hand-cycling to be extremely therapeutic. Stuecheli reports TASP has continued to grow its veterans programming, through outreach to Veterans Administration hospitals and other organizations providing support to disabled veterans, including the Wounded Warriors Project. TASP hopes to welcome the No Barriers Summit back to the Telluride region in 2015.
“We’ve been able to get the word out that Telluride is a destination for the able-bodied, as well as individuals with disabilities,” she said of TASP’s growth over the last 17 years.
For participants like Rich Humphrey, who is now also a volunteer with the organization, the advantages of having an organization like TASP serving the needs of the disabled community are tremendous.
“I know that when he’s with TASP he’s safe, and that they understand what it’s like having a kid with a disability,” Humphrey said of his son’s participation with TASP. “It’s a place where we don’t have to explain everything, because they understand those kinds of kids. And that allows you to relax, which is a real gift.”