National Ability Center hosts South Korean exchange program
On Jan. 10, The National Ability Center concluded the second part of a federally funded foreign exchange program it began last season.
Just prior to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, the National Ability Center sent a group of athletes and instructors to South Korea to share their knowledge of adaptive sports and alpine skiing in particular. From Jan. 1-10, 2019, a 13-person delegation from South Korea came to the NAC to see how the center runs its programs, and more generally to see what adaptive sports and accessibility looks like in the United States. Over the course of their 10-day stay, the group attended trainings on several adaptive sports and their accompanying equipment, including alpine skiing, basketball, climbing and biathlon.
Tracy Meier, program director at the NAC, said one of the local nonprofit’s main goals was to give the visitors a view of the everyday training that it provides. She said there are very few adaptive skiing camps in South Korea, and the alpine camp the NAC attended only spanned a week.
“For the NAC, we run ski lessons every single day of the winter, so we are hoping to give that education of the equipment and teaching progression, and working with them on setting some goals on what they can take back and what they can establish as a program that will continue on.”
Meier said the biggest difference between the programs in South Korea and those in the U.S. came down to one word: independence.
During the NAC’s visit to South Korea, and through its various trips abroad through similar programs, Meier said one common theme is that people with disabilities aren’t exercising much, and often aren’t getting much time outside of their homes.
“Where we really focus on the ‘I can’ and trying to empower people to be as independent as possible, people were not pushing their independence, they would try and do everything possible for that person with a disability,” she said. “I think that was something that we really are trying to educate people about. People are people, and everyone wants support in a different way, but we want to encourage that independence.”
She said ski training, for example, not only applied to the sport, but to their independence in life.
“Ultimately, through adaptive sport, we’re hoping to make that impact on people’s quality of life and what happens every day,” she said.
The group of South Korean visitors consisted of students studying occupational therapy or adaptive sport, plus professors, and some alpine skiing coaches. They were not associated with one particular institution.
Meier said the group developed two goals, with some of the visitors planning on starting an organization similar to the NAC, called the KAC – Korea Ability Center – and the other half investigating how to start a ski program.
“They really worked on (those ideas) then they presented in English to the best of their ability,” Meier said.
For the NAC, Meier said the takeaway was that there is a global need for adaptive programs.
“There’s a need out there for us to continue supporting and educating, not only here in the States but internationally, what people with disabilities can do,” she said. “Our vision of the NAC is to make a global impact, and so these international exchanges allow us to do that and continue to break down those barriers, so we feel really lucky to be a part of that.”
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