Students learn the skills needed to descend below the sea at The DiveHeart Foundation. Photo courtesy DiveHeart Foundation
The Diveheart Foundation offers courage and independence through the sport of accessible scuba diving
The Diveheart Foundation is a volunteer-driven, non-profit organization that aims to help build confidence and independence in children, adults, and veterans with disabilities through the sport of scuba diving.
A big thumbs up for the DiveHeart Foundation from the blogsite Girl Scuba Divers. Photo courtesy Girl Scuba Divers.
Founder, Jim Elliott, was inspired by his daughter Erin who was blind from birth and struggled with disability throughout her childhood. Elliott noticed a profound positive impact in Erin’s social, athletic, and academic skills after introducing her to downhill skiing.
Elliott learned to scuba dive in college, and soon realized the zero-gravity environment of the underwater world could offer the same kind of therapeutic value to those with disabilities that skiing had to his daughter Erin.
Elliott says scuba diving offers the unique, forgiving, and weightless environment of outer space providing the perfect balance and buoyancy to individuals who may otherwise struggle on land. These combined freedoms offer both physical and psychological value.
The Diveheart Foundation works with individuals with any physical or cognitive disability such as traumatic brain injuries, paraplegia, amputation, autism, down syndrome, cerebral palsy, vision and hearing impairments, and muscular dystrophy. Accommodations to the depth of the dive would be made for pressure-related disabilities. Individuals do not need to know how to swim to participate with Diveheart, and can begin scuba diving at the age of nine. Younger participants start with snorkeling.
According to Elliott, Diveheart programs can be found at high schools, hotels, hospitals, and rehab centers. “The benefits of diving are meaningful at this local level,” says Elliott. Sponsored trips to locations with natural bodies of water such as Florida and Cozumel are also offered for participants who want to take the experience further.
Diveheart volunteer staff undergo rigorous training in order to become competent divers and earn different levels of certification. They must also be able to work with individuals with disabilities. Diveheart offers an adaptive dive training program in order to better assist divers with disabilities called ‘empathy training’, according to Elliott. “The diver has something covering his/her eyes to experience what a blind diver experiences,” he says. “Or a diver is not able to move a body part to experience what someone with paralysis or amputation is experiencing.”
Diveheart has worked with individuals and organizations around the world, and has launched its first international chapter in England.