Scuba lessons for students with physical disabilities

But for the students taking a specialized diving class, it's much more than a plunge in the water. The lessons are designed for people with physical disabilities.

The tanks, the masks, the breathing apparatus - a good sign that some scuba divers are about to take the plunge. And it isn't ordinary. Physically challenged student divers helped by experienced volunteers are learning the sport of being under water. Stephanie Baranko is the volunteer instructor.

"On land, a lot of these kids are restricted by different types of mobility impairments, whether its a walker or a wheelchair or being paraplegic or quadriplegic. But putting them in the water removes those physical barriers," she said.

The students train at the Illinois Center for Rehabilitation and Education where a hydraulic platform lowers the students into the three-and-a-half foot pool.

"I know I'm not able to live under water...this is as close as I'm going to get its fulfilling my life so much," said Robert Thompson, student.

For the past three years, Baranko, a registered nurse in Northwest Memorial Hospital's spinal injury unit has been conducting these sessions.

"When I'm in the water, I'm calm, I'm calm, and I love the water," said student Kristin Hadley.

Working in this environment is something of a habit for Stephanie and four of those who help her. They also volunteer for underwater duty at the Shedd Aquarium.

"You get these kids underwater and they start smiling underwater and they're free. It's like they get free and it's just the neatest thing to be able to help them," said volunteer Bob Ryan.

"When you learn the basic skills and how to do it, it feels real good actually. It feels excellent," said Bob Connors, student.

At the end of their training, the students will receive certification from the handicapped scuba association.

"It's priceless. I mean, in terms of giving the kids a chance to share this with them and to give them opportunities that they wouldn't have had otherwise," said Baranko.

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