For most people, taking a walk through Pacific Spirit Park is as easy as tying your shoes and walking to the trail. But for people with disabilities, it is not as simple, or is it? The British Columbia Mobility Opportunities Society, know as BCMOS, aims to allow all people to see everything British Columbia has to offer.
“Come in with an open mind to the people you’ll meet and an open mind of what people with disabilities can do,” said Eric Molendyk, the program administrator for BCMOS.
BCMOS takes their clients, who pay a $10 fee for the service, on excursions across B.C. Pacific Spirit Park, on UBC’s campus, serves as an easy introductory hike while Lynn Canyon and Lighthouse Park are more challenging. BCMOS has even taken client up to Garibaldi Lake, a trip that requires eight volunteers.
Volunteers serve as the backbone to the organization. Most volunteers act as sherpas, pushing, steering and lifting the TrailRider, an alternative wheelchair designed for wilderness terrain. Volunteers also help to organize and run excursions.
Many of the volunteers are UBC students, a large portion of which are Kinesiology students interested in occupational and recreational therapy. But Molendyk encourages everyone and anyone to come out and volunteer. BCMOS is always looking for volunteers and the organization serves as an excellent experience and learning opportunity for those interested in the outdoors, therapy and working with people with disabilities.
“The person with the disability is trusting the volunteer with their body, their safety when they get out of the chair, where they are most comfortable,” said Molendyk.
Most volunteers are involved in BCMOS’s summer program that runs from May to August. The organization hikes Wednesday through Sunday, between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Volunteers are sent a list of hikes and can choose which to help out with.
Gabe Frame, a fourth-year biology student and the hiking coordinator for BCMOS, shares Molendyk’s feelings about volunteers; everyone is welcome and they are always looking for more.
There are over 100 volunteers, about 30 of which are regulars, but Frame still wants to see more people come out and volunteer.
“You gain a lot of perspective seeing how they view their disability, how they manage it and how much they appreciate services," said Frame.
Frame sees the power volunteers have to influence the lives of the riders. He recalls one client who was elderly and had not been outside in a long time. After their hike, Frame received a letter from the client's daughter, saying how much happier and healthier her mother was due to BCMOS's work.
BCMOS has been working with UBC’s department of mechanical engineering since 2011. Markus Fengler, a mechanical engineer and UBC lecturer, has incorporated projects revolving around the TrailRider into his design courses.
Though students’ design may not be added to the production models of TrailRider, Fengler sees them as excellent learning tools.
“There was a lot of room for good design exercises,” said Fengler of the TrailRider. “The students were able to really engage. It really helped, the support level from BCMOS was super.”
Fengler hopes that by introducing students to the social service aspect of engineering he can show them how engineering can make a difference to people in a community.
“There is a community service learning element to this,” said Fengler.
Working with the TrailerRider also teaches students to work with various stakeholders such as riders, sherpas and BCMOS coordinators as well as manufacturers, suppliers, designers and others outside the classroom. Fengler believes this to be a valuable experience for students as it shows them aspects of engineering not seen it a typical classroom.
“I know from myself, living in a wheelchair, my whole life is looking up at people or looking up at things, so it’s quite a unique experience to get out of your chair and look down on something,” Molendyk said of crossing the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge.
To BCMOS’ volunteers, the program similarly offers a change in perspective and an opportunity to expose everyone to British Columbia’s natural beauty.
To get more info or volunteer, email Gabe Frame at firstname.lastname@example.org