'Anybody can climb:' Adaptive Climbing Group makes rock climbing accessible for all abilities

CHICAGO (WLS) -- One group is taking climbing to new heights by building an inclusive community that make climbing accessible for all abilities.

The Adaptive Climbing Group at Brooklyn Boulders started in New York in 2012 and has since expanded to three states, including a location on Chicago's Near West Side.

"The Adaptive Climbing Group is a community first and foremost," volunteer coordinator Al Schiewe said. "It's a community that gives climbing capabilities to people that normally wouldn't think about climbing."

The program allows people that have permanent physical or developmental disabilities to climb with the group. They offer different techniques, tools and training to volunteers that enable participants to climb.

"The climbing activity is really cool for people with disabilities because our motto is anybody can climb, so that's the way we approach it, Schiewe said. "We have an intake form that tells us a little about what their abilities are and what their disabilities are, and try to match our techniques and our gear to what they need. When they get in we see how they are climbing and make different suggestions and we just go from there."

Modifying their approach allows climbing without limits. People of all abilities, from the visually impaired, amputees, cancer and stroke survivors, have no limits when climbing on the wall.

"It's a really incredible sense of accomplishment to know that I can come and grab equipment," adaptive climber Manasi Deshpande said. "A few weeks ago I could start really feeling like I'm getting stronger every month. It's been a lot of fun and a great sense of achievement, and an awesome community to work with."

"Climbing has been really amazing because I've always known there are people that have it harder than me in their life and just to see them prosper so well it's so nice," fellow adaptive climber Jack Whalen said.

Not only does it give a sense of achievement and renewed confidence, but it also provides an inclusive community to belong to.

"The community is, I think, the best part of the program," Schiewe said. "So we have the activity which is rock climbing but the community is really what the climbers and the volunteers are looking forward to."
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