Rock-climbing and mountain scaling are hobbies most people find themselves intimidated by, even as an indoor sport. So few of us actively take an interest in pursuing such an activity that it’s all the more encouraging to see children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities take full participation in these ostensibly daunting pursuits.
This is what Dublin Climbing Centre in Tallaght sets out to accomplish as part of accessibility week. Opening their doors to fully facilitate those with special needs, the staff of the climbing centre displayed their attentive nature to all who entered, strapping each attendee in for their first taste of indoor climbing as they scale the intimidating heights.
Centre Manager Conor O’Connor explained how the centre had just celebrated its first birthday. “We’re open a year as of the 26th of November, for the kids there was a celebration, a kid’s competition which they really enjoyed, it was a bouldering competition whereby they each got three attempts on each route where they’d score based upon their success.”
The climbing centre has had huge interest among children since its opening and this has certainly shone through during its launch in accessibility week. Each member of staff is highly experienced in mountaineering and as a result are very patient and accommodating to all the families and school groups that enter, something Conor says has been very rewarding.
As for those with special needs, the staff have made sure to have their own strategies of assisting with each need as it arises, including the blind, and hard of hearing. “A good example is for the hard of hearing, where we’d do a demonstration first and then give our instructions out which would then be translated by the accompanying interpreter,” said Mr O’Connor.
“Demonstrations are always important, particularly on the way down a wall. That’s the difficult part because a lot of people would be uncomfortable with that, once they understand everything, getting to the top is just a matter of their own confidence and that grows as they attempt it.”
Mr O’Connor spoke enthusiastically about the performance of the groups that had entered the centre throughout the day, noting their persistence was key to their success in scaling the routes.
“We were delighted to take part in accessibility week, we have the staff trained in all aspects of climbing skills. Last February, we had Paul Kelliher from Mountaineering Ireland who is the abilities trainer who trained up the staff on all the rope skills that you see today.
“It was great for us, we get a lot out of it. The thing about climbing is that [it is] as difficult for everybody on their first route as it is for a climber to climb the next level up on their own technical ability. Admiration for all climbers at every level is needed to be always there.”
With several groups coming in and out throughout the day, the two children that had made the biggest impressions were Jacob Keenan and Daphne Mancosu. Jacob, aged 8, needs to use a frame when walking on his own, however, he soon found himself free of this restriction when strapped into his harness and free to scale the walls accompanied by a member of staff.
Daphne, 14, who had been diagnosed with a degenerative condition, is wheelchair bound and has minimum use of her arms and legs. Her love for climbing however, has kept her coming back to Dublin Climbing Centre. Like Jacob, there is little that can stop Daphne from reaching the top of not just one, but several of the walls given the time and assistance.
“When we first met Daphne, she was with a party of kids, and she was basically the child who hadn’t come in to climb as you could say. We had done classes where we had upskilled to help those of all abilities and so myself and Josie told her, ‘come on, we’ll take you climbing!’
“She wanted to go, she’d seen everyone else, had a go and finished her route. Afterwards, she’d had a break because she was tired but seeing the other kids continue, she said ‘I’d like to try another route’ and she went this time for the hard route that the kids had climbed, and she got to the top. She’s determined and loved it, as we say here it’s for everyone. She does the work in the end, we don’t do any of the work!”
By the end of the day, both Jacob and Daphne were hoisted up into a seat designed to keep any individual secure. One at a time each of the children was hoisted up along the archway and swung back and forth much to the delight of both children and their parents, visibly delighted as their kids were being given the same chance to enjoy the centre’s facilities as much as every other adult and child.
Mr O’Connor mentioned another girl with a similar condition to Daphne’s. He said: “We had one girl named Shirley earlier today who was much the same as Daphne except she only had minor strength in her legs. She was about 20 minutes and she got up the route, and fair play to her she stuck at it. We had her climb on a fixed colour of the climbing rocks, once she’d had the colour in mind it was easier for her to go on the colour and work her own way up to the top.”
Conor is brightly optimistic for the future of Dublin Climbing Centre, assuring that it also has relaxing effects for people who may suffer from stress and negative environment in their daily lives. “We’d like to see more families come in and we’re successful there, we’ve got parents coming in with their kids all the time. It’s quite a social interaction, sometimes you have people, both adults and children whose environment might be unfair to them, they could be angry people, but when they come in here it’s a completely level playing field.
“They relax, they’re complimented by their peers and they realise that the only person they’re competing against is themselves. And they challenge themselves beyond their comfort zones. There’s a balancing effect to rock-climbing that I think is very helpful for a lot of people.”
By Henry Phipps