Value of outdoor education for people with disabilities : an in-depth case study of the Calvert Trust
Crosbie, John Patrick G.
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The United Kingdom has a long history of using outdoor activities as a vehicle for recreation, rehabilitation and education for people with disabilities. However, there has been little empirical research into the value placed on the experiences by those who organise the activities or by the participants. The Calvert Trust was one of the first organisations to specialise in outdoor activities for this population and through their three Centres is currently the largest provider of outdoor education for people with disabilities within the UK. Through four separate but linked research phases covering data collected between 2002 and 2013, the present study investigates the value of Calvert Trust programmes for both organisers and participants. The first phase involved the analysis of an existing data-set of post-course evaluation questionnaires (n=502) completed by visiting leaders of groups of participants (n=2,843) with a variety of disabilities who had attended one of the three Calvert Trust Centres. The activities and factors contributing to the perceived benefits of participation were identified, and visiting leader evaluations were compared with the internal reports on the same courses and participant groups completed by Centre instructors (n=702). There were differences in aims for the visits dependent on the sector of the respondent (education, recreation or rehabilitation) but an increase in confidence and independence were those most frequently reported outcomes across sectors. There was general agreement between visiting leaders and instructors as to the role of challenge, achievement and teamwork in delivering these benefits. The limitations of having respondents from only one Centre were addressed in the second phase of the research. This investigated post-course evaluation questionnaires from all three Centres returned both by visiting leaders (n=397) and participants (n=2,507). Comparisons were made across the Centres and differences were found to exist in the aims and domestic aspects of the provision reported on by the visiting leaders but not in aspects of the activity delivery. The participants, however, showed small but significant differences across the Centres in their reporting of development of communication skills, social skills, self-esteem and independence. A third research phase employed iterative email interviews with representatives from visiting organisations (n=17) and the Calvert Trust (n=17) to relate participant experiences to the aims of both the purchasers and providers. Both sets of informants saw participant recognition of personal ability as a key aim of the visit. Other frequently reported aims were to provide new social opportunities, develop interpersonal skills and increase confidence, but these had different relative weightings across informants. In the fourth phase of the research the direct voices of the participants on the value of their outdoor experiences was accessed through interviews with participants (n=23) and with a ‘significant other’ (n=18). Differences in the reporting of personal experiences were noted between those with physical and intellectual disabilities. A number of those with physical disabilities, and/or their ‘significant others’, considered that the outdoor education experience had made an important difference to the participant’s life that might have a long-lasting impact. Those with intellectual disabilities reported a positive experience that may have given them the confidence to take part in similar events, undertake more exercise or widen their social circle. A post-visit increase in independence was reported by a number of the ‘significant others’ for this latter group. The findings overall suggest that participation in the outdoor education courses at the Calvert Trust was generally a very positive experience, with outcomes valued by purchasers, by participants and by those with close knowledge of them. The principal reported benefits relate to themes of confidence, independence and realisation of personal ability. These are discussed in relation to the specific outdoor education programmes experienced and the impact that these may have on the everyday lives of participants with disabilities.