LOGAN – People with disabilities don’t always participate in recreational activities in their communities, and two prominent Utahns are working to change this.
Utah state legislator and physician, Dr. Ed Redd of Cache Valley, and Sachin Pavithran, director of the Utah Assistive Technology Program and U.S. Access Board Vice Chair know that inclusion for people with disabilities in mainstream activities are important to mental and physical health.
Redd said, “There’s nothing worse than feeling isolated and not belonging to a group. It is unhealthy physically and mentally. Inclusion is important for people of all abilities.”
The concern about this issue arose as Redd and Pavithran trained for the popular LOTOJA (Logan to Jackson) bike race,
which they will participate in this Saturday. Pavithran, who is blind, is riding a tandem bike with Redd.
Pavithran said, “People with disabilities sometimes are not invited or made aware of recreational opportunities, and when they do hear about it, they aren’t included because either they are seen as incapable or because the individual doesn’t want to be a burden on other.”
The two have been getting up at 5 a.m. to train for the race, and have learned how to best cooperate with each other to be successful riders.
Visual cues are something Redd has learned to give to Pavithran to keep him engaged and informed.
“Visual cues are critical – if you’re about to go up a hill, you need to know so you can anticipate pedaling harder,” Redd said. “I also describe what we’re going past, whether it is dead skunks, landmarks, or cows. I realized that it can get a little boring for Sachin if he’s just pedaling and not knowing what’s around him.”
This two-way communication helps keep overall performance from suffering.
Pavithran said, “Knowing how much farther I have to a certain point helps me set goals and stay motivated.”
The coaching and learning is also a two-way process, as is the enjoyment they get out of the experience.
“I like riding tandem because it is a social activity,” Redd said. “I’ve learned so much about Sachin – it’s raised my awareness of what it is like to live with blindness. I’ve realized and appreciated the challenges he faces on a daily basis I otherwise wouldn’t think about.”
When the two decided to do the race, Redd had not had the opportunity to work with a person who is blind and wasn’t sure at first how to relate to Pavithran.
“I think people worry about being offensive, and don’t know what to expect,” Redd said. “No one likes to fail, but we need to raise awareness that people with disabilities do love to be involved. Let’s just do it.”
And sometimes failure happens. Once the two stopped at 7/11 for a Gatorade in Brigham city, and as they got off the bike Redd forgot to let Pavithran know about the curb since he didn’t have his cane.
“Cut yourself some slack, learn from your mistakes, and next time don’t do it,” Pavithran said. “We can’t let our fears get in the way of having relationships and helping people have new experiences.”
Humility and being teachable are the keys for him, Redd said. Pavithran said on the end of the person with a disability it is important to ‘put yourself out there.’ The sense of accomplishment for Pavithran is one of the most important parts of inclusion.
“People with disabilities need to make themselves available and not wait for an invitation,” Pavithran said. “I’ve always had a desire to do something I’ve never done, riding 206 miles on a tandem bike is going to push my limits, but I’ll be accomplishing something new.”
Accessibility issues will likely come up, but the biggest road block is awareness Pavithran said.
“We need to change attitudes on both sides, and other stuff like accessibility falls into place,” he said. “There are resources available in the community. Bring your ideas to the table, and you can find a way to make your desires come true.”
The two hope they’ll inspire inclusion this weekend as they take on the race and speed down hills at 55 mile per hour.
Redd said, “I want the community to realize that it’s a wonderful experience to include people of varying abilities in activities – it isn’t a chore, it isn’t hard work or painful. It is just a lot of fun and a mutual learning experience. I think the things I enjoy most in life are shared with other people.”
Learn more about the Utah Assistive Technology Program online at www.uatpat.org or utahatprogram.blogspot.com, or 800-524-5152. Learn more about the Center for Persons with Disabilities online at www.cpdusu.org.