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PADI Adaptive Teaching Techniques

A Workshop on Adaptive Teaching Techniques

During my time as a diving instructor I came across a few divers with special needs that challenged me (and the team) to review and adapt my teaching techniques. In fact, quite regularly I dived with students who could not lift their gear out of the water and up the boat ladder and in these cases the boat crew and fellow divers have always been happy to give a helping hand.

But to be perfectly honest, it had never even crossed my mind that someone who is fully blind (or visually impaired) would be keen to give diving a try. Oh how wrong I was!

But let me start from the beginning…



Classroom Session

After having recently taken part in the PADI Adaptive Teaching Techniques Instructor Training course, Gaz (who is our PADI Course Director at Master Divers) had decided to share his new skills and knowledge and offer a workshop for the Master Divers team.

The day started with a classroom session where we talked about the different types of impairments student divers could have and how to best adapt our teaching (and diving) techniques to meet all performance requirements – and even more importantly make sure everyone enjoys themselves during the dives. The group also discussed how to best approach the subject and everyone agreed that communication is key to avoid any misunderstandings or awkward situations.

After our theory lesson we were randomly paired up in buddy teams and started practicing by guiding each other around on land – blindfolded. We also learned how to safely and sensitively lift a paralyzed diver in and out of their wheelchair and assist them with a pool entry.


Depending on your buddy

So far so good, but when I heard the task for the afternoon, I have to admit I started to get a little bit nervous. Being completely blindfolded I had to trust my buddy to get from the beach on to the longtail boat, climb up to the big dive boat, and assist me to set up my diving equipment. But that’s not just it, I had to enter the water and go for a 10 minute dive – still blindfolded! It was really interesting for me that most of these tasks were actually not as difficult as I initially thought they would be while some small details which I hadn’t even considered beforehand turned out to be a lot more tricky:

Finding my way around our dive boat was actually not too difficult, because my buddy & guide May talked me through every step (literally!) in detail and guided me around whenever I needed to get up and walk around. But of course, I had been on this boat many times before, which is obviously an advantage a new diver wouldn’t have. Setting up my gear was pretty straightforward too, but I guess it helps that I have been diving in pretty much the same setup for the last 6 years, so I know my equipment inside out. However, I must have asked my buddy May about four times to double check for me that my tank was really full and I hadn’t accidentally set up on an empty tank! (I have some slight trust issues there, I know…)


Diving blindfolded!

When it came to entry procedures, Gaz let us choose which ones we prefer and while some of us opted for the giant stride, I decided to play it safe and climb down the boat ladder and put my gear on in the water. Now it was time to finally descend on our mini dive!

May maintained contact with me at all times and guided me down the line bit by bit. We used a series of adapted hand signals which we had agreed on earlier, so for example when she wanted to know if I was ok, she would simply squeeze my hand. May helped me fine tune my position by giving me little hints about how much I had to inflate or deflate my BCD to become neutrally buoyant and guided me around on a mini-dive. The weirdest part about it was probably that I felt like we were swimming incredibly fast when we were actually not (I found out later that pretty much everyone in the group felt the same).

Now once again, I know that I have a competitive advantage here, since diving comes quite natural to me. Having a mask on my face, a regulator in my mouth and breathing under water doesn’t stress me out, quite the opposite, I find it very calming to be under water, which is why being on my ‘blind dive’ was by far my favorite part of the day and made me appreciate once more, that diving is more than just spotting cool marine life, but rather also the whole feeling of being neutrally buoyant.

Before ‘returning the favor’ and guiding my buddy May around on her ‘blind dive’, we practiced some additional adaptive teaching techniques: Gaz showed us the best swimming style for divers without the ability to use their legs and everyone in the group had to demonstrate a couple of skills from the PADI Open Water Diver course, which were complicated by a different type of impairment – such as ‘one handed mask removal and replacement’ for example.


Guiding around my ‘blindfolded’ buddy was the final task of the day. Knowing that body contact was the one thing that relaxed me the most, I tried to be there for her, give her as much information on the diving parameters as I possibly could (we had set hand signals for the depth, dive time or remaining air supply for example) and later talk her through every single step on the boat on our way back to Master Divers.

Overall this workshop was the best learning experience I had in quite some time. Already during the PADI Advanced Open Water Diver course we learn to be ‘thinking like a diver’, but this day has challenged me to not only ‘think like an Instructor’ but to actually go one step further and truly put myself into the fins of a diver with disabilities. It was a very humbling experience to dive without being able to see what’s going on and an interesting challenge to try out a lot of new techniques.



In my opinion the PADI Adaptive Teaching Techniques Specialty is a great addition to every dive professional’s skillset and will help Instructors to become more mindful when introducing people with disabilities to the world of SCUBA diving. It can be quite a balancing act between being honest with one’s student divers about what is actually doable (and what isn’t) and at the same time to motivate new divers who are experiencing physical or mental challenges. The result, whether it’s a full certification as PADI Open Water Diver or a diver that is satisfied with an experience program like the ‘PADI Discover Scuba Diving’, is introducing non-divers to the fascinating underwater world – and that’s what truly matters here and makes us Instructors love our job every day. 365 days of the year…

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