April is National Limb Loss & Limb Difference Awareness Month. Created by the Amputee Coalition, “Your Ordinary is Extraordinary” is their way of inviting people living with limb loss to share their individual stories and bring to light their unique experiences during this momentous month.
In keeping with the campaign, KIT is shining a bright spotlight on Vasu Sojitra, by sharing his story:
Vasu is the first adaptive athlete to summit the Grand Teton, as well as climb & descend the Denali, adaptive sports director for Eagle Mount Bozeman, the first adaptive athlete for The North Face, and founding member for The Outdoor F.U.T.U.R.E Initiative, among his long list of accomplishments. You can read more about Vasu here.
Amidst all of Vasu’s achievements, however, he reminds us of the importance of inclusion and accessibility in outdoor sports and active living, in general. As someone who has lived with limb loss almost his entire life and as one of the pioneers in adaptive outdoor sports, he is sending a message loud and clear – that every person deserves to be included, fully participate and enjoy outdoor activities; after all, true accessibility in the outdoors is more than just simply installing a wheelchair ramp.
Let’s follow Vasu’s journey, and learn more about disability inclusion in the outdoors.
All About Vasu
In a world where people with disabilities are often made to believe that their possibilities and realities are, well – limited instead of endless, Vasu Sojitra has defied expectations, achieved what many others have thought to be impossible, and broken barriers time and time again.
Here’s his most current list of accomplishments as listed on The North Face profile page.
- First independent adaptive athlete to run The Rut 11k, 2017
- The Beaten Path (28 miles), Beartooth Mountain Range, MT, 2018
- First independent adaptive ascent on crutches:
- Granite Peak, Beartooth Mountain Range, MT, 2015
- Grand Teton, Grand Teton Mountain Range, WY, 2014
- Multiple peaks, Green Mountains State Park, VT
- Multiple peaks, Adirondack State Park, NY
- First independent adaptive ascent and descent via skiing
- Abiathar Couloir, Beartooth Mountain Range, MT, 2017
- The Ruler, Bridger Mountain Range, MT, 2015
- The Great One, Bridger Mountain Range, MT, 2015
- Multiple peaks in Chic Choc Mountain Range, Quebec, Canada
- Tuckerman Ravine, White Mountains, NH, 2012
- First 720 spin by an adaptive skier, 2017
- Vasu Sojitra: Out on a Limb”, Mountainfilm 2015
“Ninjasticking through the woods to bring intersectionality to the outdoors.” – Vasu Sojitra
Born in India but raised in Connecticut, at just 9 months old, Vasu was diagnosed with septicemia or what’s more well-known as sepsis, the clinical name for blood poisoning by bacteria.
The disease resulted in the amputation of his right leg in order to save his life.
Since then, Vasu saw his amputation as an opportunity to live life to the very fullest, with courage, empathy, strength, grace, and determination.
Supported and empowered by his family, especially his brother, Vasu learned to use prosthetics. But at 10 years old, he soon felt increasingly frustrated at its limitations and design flaws. Instead of allowing his full mobility, he soon saw his prosthetics as a hindrance to what he knew he could accomplish.
While his brother was instrumental in teaching him and introducing him to the world of outdoor sports (skating and skiing), ultimately, he taught himself how to ski because, at that time, there was no available ski instructor who was capable of teaching skiers with disabilities. But he persevered and turned his passion into skills at an unprecedented level.
As a college student in Vermont, he and his friends modified and found a way to adapt his ski crutches to his specific needs, which then opened the door to the joys and freedom of backcountry skiing. He went on to become the first adaptive athlete to scale the Grand Teton, and most recently, climbed and descended down from the 20,310-ft.-high Denali, North America’s tallest peak.
According to Vasu’s website, “Vasu witnessed extreme poverty growing up in India, and has been living most of his life with a “dis”ability. He looks at these experiences as a blessing; they have allowed him to truly hone in on his ability to empathize with others. He continues to strengthen his vigor through his work in advocacy for those who are historically marginalized. Vasu will continue to embolden others to be a positive influence in their own communities by pushing personal limits, putting others first, and encouraging people to believe in themselves and in their own unique abilities!”
With every summit Vasu climbs, on every descent he makes on his adaptive ski and snowboard, he is empowering communities that one day, we might walk into the doors of any outdoor retailer and see clothing and gear designed for all people – disabled and nondisabled alike. His achievements and work as a disability access strategist mean that families hiking on any trail could venture into whatever direction they please and not be limited in their options simply because their equipment isn’t adapted for the outdoors.
Today, Vasu lives in Bozeman, Montana. Interested to know what he’s up to?
Fostering Adaptive, Inclusive Accessibility In The Outdoors
We know that people of all abilities, including those living with the loss of limbs, deserve to enjoy outdoor sports and activities. However, the outdoors industry, including outdoor education and recreation, is only beginning to acknowledge and understand disability. This industry is largely designed around able-bodiedness; individuals who do not fit this norm often encounter barriers to participating in outdoor activities.
According to the CDC, “factors in a person’s environment that, through their absence or presence, limit functioning and create disability include aspects such as
- a physical environment that is not accessible,
- lack of relevant assistive technology (assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices),
- negative attitudes of people towards disability,
- services, systems, and policies that are either nonexistent or that hinder the involvement of all people with a health condition in all areas of life.”
Because of these common barriers, people often assume that people with disabilities simply can’t participate in outdoor activities (also referred to as attitudinal barriers); and by extension, because of these false assumptions, people with disabilities may also then come to believe that they cannot participate in outdoor activities because of their disability.
It’s a cycle that needs to stop.
The outdoors is for everyone, and physical activities outside should be something that everyone can freely enjoy. The CDC further lists the benefits of physical activities for people with disabilities and highlights that, “Adults with disabilities are more likely to have obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, or cancer than adults without disabilities. Physical activity can reduce the risk and help manage these chronic conditions.”
The good news is that many individuals, government agencies, adaptive athletes (Vasu!), and disability activists are fighting and working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that everyone can get outside and enjoy nature on their own terms.
For example, adaptive sports organizations are working together with manufacturers, researchers, and inventors to create new products and programs that allow people with disabilities to take part in outdoor activities.
These innovations include
- Accessible trails for hiking and mountain biking
- Skiing equipment for people with prosthetic legs or arms
- Adaptive kayaks that can be used by people with limited mobility
And there’s more happening!
- Disabled Hikers, “a project by disabled hikers for disabled hikers” advocates for disability inclusion in the outdoors by providing comprehensive information on hiking trails including what to expect, disability access info, and help in planning ahead.
- National Sports Center for the Disabled, “Colorado’s most comprehensive provider of adaptive outdoor experiences” specializes in creating exhilarating adaptive outdoor sports experiences.
- Outdoors for All Foundation, “is a national leader in delivering adaptive and therapeutic recreation for children and adults with disabilities” and includes programs in snowboarding, hiking, kayaking, rock climbing as well as weekend excursions and other custom events.
Vasu and everyone involved in advocating for a fully inclusive experience outdoors have one clear message – that we need to change the way we view disability so we break down barriers to disability inclusion.
The catalyst for this shift in worldview is disability inclusion and putting this powerful concept into action in all ways – both in indoor and outdoor spaces.
Taking a quote from Outside Online’s recent article on Vasu, “He’s [Vasu] a firm believer that it isn’t disability that holds people back—it’s the barriers and prejudices that others put up.”
Explore Disability Inclusion Resources & Courses by KIT
Since 1997, KIT has provided dynamic online and on-site training, innovative consultations, expert policy and standards development, and empowering coaching that gives people who work with children a “want to, can do, and will do” attitude towards welcoming kids with disabilities or other complex needs. KIT is also an authorized provider of the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET) CEUs for online training to support your professional development needs.
We’ve trained more than 130,000 people in more than 600 organizations in all 50 states and 13 countries in disability inclusion and behavior support.
All of our training is organized around one goal: to help organizations foster an inclusive environment where all kids thrive, in the classroom and into the great outdoors.
When you partner with KIT, you gain access to disability inclusion resources that help move the needle for your programs.
We invite you to learn more about our latest inclusion eSeries, “I Can Be Inclusive!” from our KIT Academy. The courses you’ll access are:
- Inclusion 101
- Supportive Environments
- Communicating through Behavior
- Tips and Tools to Support Disability Inclusion
- Family Collaboration
Our goal: inclusion beyond the four walls of the classroom!
Disability inclusion and adaptive, accessible outdoor spaces and equipment make all the difference: they let everyone spend time in the outdoors, as well as help break physical and mental barriers by helping all people enjoy the benefits of outdoor activities, and perhaps accomplish feats that people never would have thought possible – just like Vasu.
As a national leader in inclusion, we know that when all children live and play in spaces and communities that are truly inclusive, their lives are enhanced through shared experiences and friendships with peers who may or may not have disabilities.
Let’s talk about inclusion! We look forward to discussing options that best suit the needs of your organization and the families you serve. Contact KIT today!