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Scuba Diving Anyone?

Editor's Note: Mark Dumalski lives in Ottawa, Ontario, and is working towards his Chartered Accountant's designation.

When I signed up for a few hours of work assessing the accessibility of various websites a few years ago, I certainly never envisioned that work finding me 70 feet below the surface of the St. Lawrence River only a short time later. The gentleman I was working with on the websites was a quadriplegic and asked me one day if I would be interested in checking out a program aimed at teaching people with disabilities how to Scuba dive. Not expecting much to come of it, I figured I would give it a try, and I haven't looked back since.

Over the next three months, I worked closely with another student to learn the academic theory behind Scuba diving, which is the cornerstone to safe, fun and efficient diving. The textbook, as far as I knew at the time, was only available in print, and there were certain concepts, such as the use of dive tables to determine the maximum amount of time one can stay at the bottom while on a dive, which were somewhat visual. However, the instructor was very accommodating and took the view that the most important thing was for me to demonstrate my comprehension of the key concepts (so he found other ways to allow me to write the tests) and show proficiency with the various skills.

The academic sessions were accompanied by weekly sessions in a private indoor pool, where I practiced various skills such as controlling my buoyancy in the water, clearing my mask, and learning how to ascend to the surface safely in case of an emergency.

As one might guess, most communication underwater is done visually with hand signals. Obviously, this wasn't going to work for me, and so we instead made use of tactile signals so that my buddies could communicate with me. I, in the meantime, continued to use visual signals to communicate with them. As an example, when asking someone if they are okay, you typically hold up your thumb and forefinger in the shape of an O, with your other three fingers extended. For me, this question is indicated with a squeeze of the upper arm, and I then respond with the appropriate hand signal.

By the end of the three months, I had obtained my Handicapped Scuba Association or HSA certification, which is akin to the Professional Association of Diving Instructors certification, which most recreational divers hold. Some instructors, holding both certifications, believe the HSA to be the more sound and technically advanced certification, though this is only the opinion of some.

An individual with a disability is typically assigned one of three levels of certification, each dependent on the individual's ability to help him or herself, as well as others, while in the water. I am a C-level diver, but only just barely. This designation is based on the fact that if I was diving with a buddy who became unconscious, and we had to surface, I would not be able to see the shore to get us both there safely. An A-level diver, by comparison, can assist another diver on a completely independent basis.

An individual's level of certification affects little more than the number and types of buddies he or she is required to be accompanied by on a dive. As a C-level diver, I am required to be accompanied by any certified diver with a pulse, as my instructor likes to say, and by a certified rescue level diver. Certification level notwithstanding, I have been told on numerous occasions by my instructor that I am one of the better divers he has taught, and as we speak, he is making plans for me to take the Advanced HSA course, and teach me introductory cave diving.

My instructor, who has been diving since he was 11, had previously taught people with disabilities how to dive in his spare time, as Scuba diving has always been his greatest passion. Recently, he founded a charitable foundation known as Freedom at Depth, which allows him to teach Scuba diving on a full-time basis. As a blind individual who has been diving for about five years now, and as the Treasurer of Freedom at Depth, I strongly encourage anyone to check out their website (www.freedomatdepth.ca), as the organization is always looking for new students.

One of the most common questions I get asked is what enjoyment could I possibly get out of Scuba diving, as it is typically known as a very visual activity. I never quite know how to respond to this question, but all I can say is that there is nothing quite like the feeling of weightlessness and complete and utter serenity that one experiences while exploring a river bottom, shipwreck or, as I hope to one day do, the ceiling of a saltwater cave, or sandy bottom of the Caribbean Sea. If you like the water, and have the discipline to master the skills required, Scuba diving may just be the thing for you.

Comments

I really want to go for an oslob diving expedition where I can experience swimming with the whale shark, I read some of the blogs where it features their(the writer) beautiful experience with the whale sharks.

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