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Adaptive Sporting and Recreational Programs Empower Disability Acceptance

By Timothy E. HornikLMSW, CATIS, US Army Veteran and Founder of Blind Not Alone.Tim is a disability and Veterans advocate pursuing a PhD in Therapeutic Sciences through the University of Kansas Medical Center. He adheres to Dr. Ed Canda’s concept of transilience, or going beyond who you were before to become someone new. He has earned various military and civilian recognitions for his service.


Mr. Hornik earned military and civilian recognition for service. During his military experience, he received the Meritorious Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, the Purple Heart for injuries sustained, Army Accommodation Medal with Valor for actions in combat, campaign ribbons for service in Iraq and Korea, Combat Action Badge, and many other awards. During his civilian life, he received the University of Kansas (KU) MSW Margo Award for clinical practice, the KU Wounded Warrior Scholarship for his PhD pursuits, inducted into the inaugural UW La Crosse ROTC Hall of Fame, and nominated by UW La Crosse for the US Army ROTC Hall of Fame.

As we flip through social media feeds it is common to hit upon anything from a shared post on some fitness app, like Straba, to “liking” a friend’s running race results  These posts may motivate us to remain physically active or inspire us to establish health and wellness goals (Teodoro & Naaman, 2013). Our timelines and feeds lead us to conclude that the society generating our online experiences clearly cares about physical fitness.  Unfortunately, the National Institute of Health recently reported otherwise.  In the last decade one out of three American adults and 13% of American adolescents achieved an average body mass index (BMI) classification of either overweight or obese  (Ng et al., 2014).

For individuals with disabilities, the chances of being overweight or obese are even greater.  In 2010, The Center for Disease Control reported 57% more adults and 84% more adolescents with disabilities were overweight and/or more obese than their peers

Factors such as access to quality nutrition, financial and social resources to engage in physical fitness-related activities, secondary effects of medications or conditions, and access to suitable equipment and programs, directly impact these elevated rates (Jaarsma, Dijkstra, Geertzen, & Dekker, 2014; Warburton, Nicol, & Bredin, 2006).

Dr. Chen and Tim Hornik

Dr. Robert Chen, left, and Tim Hornik appear pleased following their portion of the blinded veteran relay at the California International Marathon.

However, by understanding how to achieve fitness goals, individuals with disabilities may reverse national trends. In a study of older adults, moderate to vigorous physical activities three times a week lowered their mortality rates by 22%  (Hupin et al., 2015).

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Children who participated in a group aerobic and strength training program for 60 minutes twice a week achieved fitness goals established by the 2010 President’s Fitness Test for their age groups (Fragala-Pinkham, Haley, Rabin, & Kharasch, 2005).  For adults, research pinpointing precise strategies or fitness requirements vary based on an individual’s disability. Community and group programs tend to do more than just empower one to reach their fitness goals, they more importantly aid in the process of accepting a disability or adopting a positive disability identity (Lai, Young, Bickel, Motl, & Rimmer, 2017; Lundberg, Taniguchi, McCormick, & Tibbs, 2011; Ponchillia, Ponchillia, & Strause, 2002).


The impact of fitness goals goes beyond health and wellness.  It alters self-perception.  Consider an individual who has just lost their sight. It’s common for people in this position to feel suddenly secluded. The simple act of going for a run resides largely outside of their abilities without accommodations and supports. No cane technique affords one the chance to truly hit a moderate to vigorous running pace and cycling independently remains elusive—at least for the time being. The solution requires a community approach. Blind Running or cycling quickly becomes a team sport through sighted guides and tandem captains. An individual’s results range from the achievement of fitness goals, to a sense of belonging, to engagement with community, to empowerment in establishing new independent living goals (Ponchillia, Ponchillia, & Strause, 2002)


The sense of positive effects of being a part of something greater than oneself in achieving a previously impossible goal echoes my feelings generated during my time in the US Army before losing my sight — and in every race or event I’ve participated in since then.  My sight loss stems from injuries sustained during combat operations in Iraq.  The Warrior culture places a significant value on one’s ability to demonstrate individual physical prowess during fitness tests and to developing a sense of cohesion, improved morale, and esprit de corps through group activities.


Throughout my military service, my fitness goals pushed me to exceed minimum requirements and obtain the maximum score possible. Early in my career, I managed to easily achieve this, earning the respect of those under my leadership and generating a high level of self-confidence. These feelings of accomplishment came crashing down after I lost my sight and could no longer independently run, cycle, or do a host of other activities.

During my rehabilitation process, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Army Wounded Warrior Program, and friends and family contributed to developing my disability identity.  Initially I rejected outright all attempts to integrate tools and skills which brought any attention to my blindness. The only exception involved assistive technologies for computers. This would align with my love for computers and an understanding of the role they would play in my remaining time in the Army.  At no point during this period did anyone attempt to assess my capacity for setting goals in adaptive sporting or recreational programs.


Nearly a decade after being injured, Richard Hunter, a blind Marine, drew my attention to adaptive sports through his events for the visually impaired division of the California International Marathon. While I participated in a couple of events for disabled Veterans, none of them truly demonstrated the power of adaptive sports to foster life changing dynamics between peers, volunteers, and community supporters. It mattered not whether one crushed the marathon with a two and a half hour time or if they putzed through a leg on a relay team like I did.  We all celebrated, regardless of our differences, together. For the first time, I truly felt proud to be blind.

It does not matter whether one establishes a goal to win their division or to simply participate. I continue to feel this way throughout any of the events I attend. When Dr. Mike Reynolds and I competed in the 204 mile Dirty Kanza gravel race, we constantly found ourselves surrounded by other riders asking about tandem riding. The funniest part is that no one realized I was blind until they saw me crossing the stage with Dr. Reynolds with my white cane to mount the first-place podium for the tandem class. Likewise, my sighted running guide, Chris Benjamin and I, spent much time talking with each other and fellow participants during the Kansas City Marathon and the Trolley Run.



VA Awards $8M in Adaptive Sports Program Grants to Aid Disabled Veterans. Image taken from U.S Department of Veterans Affairs. 

It is high time for adaptive sporting programs to cease to be viewed as hobbies or remedial recreational programs for individuals with disabilities. Rather, rehabilitation plans and individual educational plans need to incorporate fitness and adaptive sporting measures. This would benefit individuals with disabilities by providing the tools needed to combat obesity, promote disability acceptance (Lundberg et al., 2011), forge lasting community bonds (Zabriskie, Lundberg, & Groff, 2005), and increase employability (Lastuka & Cottingham, 2016).


Fragala-Pinkham, M. A., Haley, S. M., Rabin, J., & Kharasch, V. S. (2005). A fitness program for children with disabilities. Physical therapy, 85(11), 1182-1200.

Hupin, D., Roche, F., Gremeaux, V., Chatard, J.-C., Oriol, M., Gaspoz, J.-M., . . . Edouard, P. (2015). Even a low-dose of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity reduces mortality by 22% in adults aged≥ 60 years: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med, bjsports-2014-094306.

Jaarsma, E., Dijkstra, P., Geertzen, J., & Dekker, R. (2014). Barriers to and facilitators of sports participation for people with physical disabilities: A systematic review. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 24(6), 871-881.

Lai, B., Young, H.-J., Bickel, C. S., Motl, R. W., & Rimmer, J. H. (2017). Current trends in exercise intervention research, technology, and behavioral change strategies for people with disabilities: A scoping review. American journal of physical medicine & rehabilitation, 96(10), 748-761.

Lastuka, A., & Cottingham, M. (2016). The effect of adaptive sports on employment among people with disabilities. Disability and rehabilitation, 38(8), 742-748.

Lundberg, N. R., Taniguchi, S., McCormick, B. P., & Tibbs, C. (2011). Identity negotiating: Redefining stigmatized identities through adaptive sports and recreation participation among individuals with a disability. Journal of Leisure Research, 43(2), 205.

Ng, M., Fleming, T., Robinson, M., Thomson, B., Graetz, N., Margono, C., . . . Abera, S. F. (2014). Global, regional, and national prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adults during 1980–2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. The lancet, 384(9945), 766-781.

Ponchillia, P., Ponchillia, S., & Strause, B. (2002). Athletes with visual impairments: Attributes and sports participation. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness (JVIB), 96(04).

Teodoro, R., & Naaman, M. (2013). Fitter with Twitter: Understanding Personal Health and Fitness Activity in Social Media. ICWSM, 2013, 611-620.

Warburton, D. E., Nicol, C. W., & Bredin, S. S. (2006). Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence. Canadian medical association journal, 174(6), 801-809.

Zabriskie, R. B., Lundberg, N. R., & Groff, D. G. (2005). Quality of life and identity: The benefits of a community-based therapeutic recreation and adaptive sports program. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 39(3), 176.


From “Manual Typewriter Operator” to “Graduate Online Programs Director…” The Journey from a Technological Perspective

Electronic Typewriter_Bashinski Blog

By Susan M. Bashinski, Ed.D.

My career began as pre-service special education teacher in the 1970s. I took lecture notes on paper. I used a manual typewriter to prepare class assignments. I fed punched cards into the campus mainframe computer to run statistics. And no, this really wasn’t more than 100 years ago!  By the time I reached my Master’s degree program, I had moved on to my first personal computer (really only an electronic word processor), but in my mind I had joined the technology revolution. When I purchased an Apple IIc computer my fate was sealed (I just didn’t realize it at the time….)

As I look back on my lengthy career in special education, I see several key events that challenged me and forced me well beyond the limits of my technological comfort zone.  Fortunately, the unimaginable change in the availability of communication media, new online learning tools and associated research shaped the skills I now need to use in my daily practice as a teacher educator.  I could never have guessed, nor honestly, even believed, that technology would become such a central thread in my work.

Communication development and augmentative communication (AAC) have remained my passion ever since I began my doctoral studies in special education at The University of Kansas (KU) in 1992. My first experience with “high AAC technology” involved the ECHO communicator. This voice output variation required me to actually open the body of the computer and install an adaptive firmware card.  Who, at that point, could ever have even imagined the technological capabilities of the iPad?  It took me a while to “see” the broader technology in education picture.

I taught the augmentative and alternative communication class for the KU Department of Special Education (SPED) during my doctoral studies and for several years thereafter.  For the entirety of these 16 years I delivered the class on campus—face-to-face with the graduate students enrolled.  In my last year of employment at KU, the University issued an announcement, encouraging faculty campus-wide to apply to participate in training on how to effectively transition a face-to-face class to an online delivery format. I believed that KU SPED’s AAC course was a great candidate for this transformation, and so I applied.

I was accepted as a member of the first Lawrence-campus cohort—which consisted of eight to ten faculty members.  Our small, innovative group spent one full week in day-long sessions learning Blackboard technology in the basement of Anschutz.  I felt as if I had entered a foreign world populated with an entirely different array of variables…!  I was overwhelmed initially. Though I was confident in my ability to teach, I found it incredibly difficult to figure out how to teach in this whole new context.  Fortunately, however, I stayed the course.

Apple IIc_Bashinski Blog

Let me fast forward now…to the present.  For the past three years I have worked as the director of graduate programs in the Department of Education at Missouri Western State University—where 100% of our graduate offerings are delivered online.  I am an individual who spent the vast majority of her career teaching in traditional face-to-face public school and university settings.  Now, I very rarely set foot in the same physical space as my students.  What a significant evolution my instructional practice has undergone in the last decade!

Delivering online courses and teaching entirely through this new distance model presents many challenges for veteran faculty members, such as myself.  Ever-present is the unchangeable fact that I (like many others) am now required to provide content, course activities, and feedback in a format different from anything I ever experienced as a student.  These challenges are exponentially magnified by the reality that the vast majority of today’s students grow up with connectivity. They enter the learning context already incredibly comfortable with current technology and the online environment.

Learners in the twenty-first century have been Web consumers for much of their lives, and are now demanding online instruction that supports participation and interaction. They want learning experiences that are social and that will connect them with their peers (West & West, as cited in Conrad & Donaldson, 2011, p. 1).

The current, extant literature base regarding distance education provides fairly extensive insights on several key challenges online course delivery presents. Some of the challenges this context generates for veteran faculty members include: ways in which to structure communication with students, ongoing technological advances, methods to promote genuine student engagement and maintain integrity in online coursework, professional development needs, and strategies to build a genuine online learning community. I raise these here to ideally promote discussion and to find at least partial answers to some of these needs.

Veteran faculty need guidance around questions as straightforward as how to structure their own personal availability? Will this schedule apply only Monday through Friday?  What is the ideal response rate for emails, questions, and grading of assignments?  Challenges relative to how to communicate with online students range from simple questions, such as how best to inform students to structure and submit their assignments for online grading, to how to determine the scope of information they will require? How much is too much? What should go in the syllabus? What should be detailed in each online page?  A well-respected and very experienced university faculty member advised me as follows,

Give far more information than you think anyone in their right mind would ever want to know (S. Steinweg, personal communication, August 2009).

My personal experience has led me to some very effective strategies. For example, embed a hidden word (e.g., “hippopotamus”) in the middle of a teacher-made video students are requested to review; attach a letter to an email, prior to the semester’s opening to all students registered for an online course, and request students send an email to verify their receipt of the information; include virtual office hours in a course syllabus; and post rules of “netiquette” for the course. I have found the 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching, compiled from a series of columns in DISTANCE Education Reports “Between the Clicks” column, to be a succinct compilation of the core behaviors one needs to develop to become a successful online instructor (Hill, n.d.a).  Some of the most essential elements I derived from this include: establish patterns for all course activities—and be consistent, think before writing, plan for the unplanned, and try to anticipate anything that might possibly “go wrong” (i.e., employ proactive practices)  (Hill, n.d.a).  My personal interpretation of the advice to be proactive involves extensive pre-planning and anticipation in order to avoid receiving 200+ emails from students every day!

Technology questions arise in regard to both hardware and software applications too. They range from simple questions such as how, where and from whom students can get help when needed, to which specific technology options are best-suited to delivery of a particular type of content.  Options for student use of a university’s library and reference resources must also be clarified before a course begins.  Personally, I struggle with the stress and anxiety I feel each and every time I am presented with a new piece of technology!  How can I master this? What do I need to know? What do I do if the technology goes down?  I believe sharing contingency plans with students is also an essential element of effective online teaching.

The importance of genuine student engagement in the online learning environment has been highlighted in research over the last decade (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011; Woo & Reeves, 2007).  Students neither want nor deserve to be presented with a digital correspondence course; their learning will not be maximized just listening to an online lecture.  One of an online instructor’s primary responsibilities is to establish a path that will guide students to actively engage with the content being presented.  It is the faculty member’s responsibility to create course materials in multiple media formats (Wang, 2012).  The most effective strategy I have found to meet this challenge is to include mandatory participation in synchronous video sessions, which are graded.  Through Doodle polling, students determine the exact schedule for such meetings, and receive grades for their involvement in these sessions.  Engaging students through synchronous methods is strongly supported through an aggregation of articles compiled from the ONLINE CL@SSROOM: Ideas for Effective Online Instruction (Bart, 2012).

Engaged learning does not simply happen.  It requires ‘architectural engineering’ by the instructor (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011, p.14).

Closely related to the need to facilitate active student engagement is the challenge of building a genuine community online.  Though I am never in the same room with the graduate students in the classes I teach, nor are the students in the same room with one another, we do see each other.  In learning easy-to-use platforms like Zoom (founded in 2011), my students and I have the opportunity to engage in real-time video conferencing. We hold critical discussions, students present materials they have developed to one another and complete peer evaluations of others’ completed work. Zoom also offers the instructor the option of recording a session for later viewing by a student, as needed.

Students in Missouri Western State University’s graduate online programs are incredibly enthusiastic about the opportunities technology like Zoom offers for real-time, meaningful collaboration. These kinds of platforms enable the auditory and visual, synchronous experiences of genuine community membership. Samples of video testimonials, in which students share overwhelming support for synchronous video meetings, can be found here.

Integrity concerns in online coursework are directly associated with the instructor (e.g., what resources may be used without violating copyright?) and with students and the work they submit (e.g., who actually wrote the research paper that was turned in?).  The challenge of academic dishonesty existed long before the online instructional environment first emerged. The online environment does, however, present distance instructors with a unique set of challenges, different from those encountered in traditional course delivery.  In a compilation of nine articles from DISTANCE Education Report (Hill, 2010), the editor offers 91 Ways to Maintain Academic Integrity in Online Courses, which are presented in four primary categories (1) the “virtue” approach – motivate students to not be tempted to cheat (2) the “policing” approach – enforce consequences for those students who are caught cheating (3) the “prevention” approach – reduce both the pressures and opportunities for students to cheat, and (4) suggestions for inclusion in an online course syllabus.

The enormous need for professional development for university faculty, particularly for veteran, senior faculty members, brings this discussion full circle.  As noted previously, delivering courses entirely through a distance model presents many, many challenges such as mastering the technology itself to transitioning sound pedagogical theory and practice to the online environment, or managing course structure and communication, and maintaining rigor in a distance course (Lorenzetti, n.d.).  Effective, durable training for faculty members requires planning, pooling of resources, and most importantly providing on-going support for online instructors.

One of the many lessons learned from the early years of distance education is the fact that you cannot simply pluck an instructor out of the classroom, plug (her) into an online course, and expect (her) to be effective in this new….medium (Hill, n.d.b, p. 1).


Bart, M. (Ed.) (2012, February). Faculty focus special report: Online student engagement tools and strategies.  Retrieved from http://cdn.facultyfocus.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/FF-Online-Student-Engagement-Report.pdf

Conrad, R-M., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ:  Wiley, Jossey-Bass.

Hill, C. (Ed.) (2010, May). Faculty focus special report: Promoting academic integrity in online education. Retrieved from http://cdn.facultyfocus.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/promoting-academic-integrity-in-online-edu2.pdf

Hill, C. (Ed.) (n.d.a.). Faculty focus special report: 10 principles of effective online teaching—Best practices in distance education. Retrieved from http://cdn.facultyfocus.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/10-Principles-of-Effective-Online-Teaching.pdf

Hill, C. (Ed.) (n.d.b.). Faculty focus special report:  Faculty development in distance education—Issues, trends, and tips. Retrieved from http://cdn.facultyfocus.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/FacultyDev-in-DistanceEd1.pdf

Lorenzetti, J. P. (n.d.). Four steps to just-in-time faculty training.  Faculty focus special report:  Faculty development in distance education—Issues, trends, and tips. Retrieved from http://cdn.facultyfocus.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/FacultyDev-in-DistanceEd1.pdf

Wang, H. (2012, February). Engage online learners with technology: A free tool kit. Faculty focus special report:  Faculty development in distance education—Issues, trends, and tips. Retrieved from http://cdn.facultyfocus.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/FacultyDev-in-DistanceEd1.pdf

Woo, Y., & Reeves, T. C. (2007). Meaningful interaction in web-based learning: A social constructivist interpretation. The Internet and Higher Education, 10(1), 15-25.

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