Diving for the disabled

Underwater diving was primarily a means of survival – hunting and finding ways to reach the depths in search of food, and was later employed by the military. However, it was not until after WW II with the demobilisation of a large number of military operatives and divers and the development of diving equipment that it developed into a (recreational) sport.

For the next couple of decades it saw a boom, and more and more people turned to underwater diving as a recreational sport. Initially, it was important that the diver was in good physical condition, as equipment was heavy and techniques were demanding. Today, things are different. With the development of equipment and techniques, diving has become accessible even to those who are not in top shape, as well as to the disabled.

Today, people with back injuries (paraplegics, tetraplegics, etc.), people who have lost arms or legs, are able to enjoy diving as a recreational sport, irrespective of their disability. However, individuals and organisations first attempting to modify programmes and training for the disabled encountered problems and opposition from conservative divers and instructors set on approaches applied 30 or 40 years earlier, who refused to accept change and enable diving for the disabled. Today, several diving federations worldwide offer training programmes and certification to disabled persons, notably the HSA (the Handicapped Scuba Association) and the IAHD (International Association for Handicapped Divers).

The IAHD Adriatic, a branch of the IAHD, and an internationally recognised association, gathering divers from Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, is a pioneer in the region in offering training to disabled persons, implementing experience gained throughout the world and conducting research. Thanks to the IAHD Adriatic, Croatia is among the few countries that offer persons with disabilities easy and cost-free training in underwater diving, and the opportunity to continue with this recreational sport.

Centres along the Adriatic coast have provided the disabled in wheelchairs with the opportunity of diving certification and diving with qualified trainers and instructors. In all likelihood, an increasing number of similar centres will appear in the future as every individual, meeting health criteria and irrespective of physical disability, should have the right and opportunity to participate in underwater diving as an activity.

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