Pitt student Hana Goodman and local organizations join forces to create adaptive skateboarding events for the blind


Image Courtesy of Christopher Sprowls

A skateboarding event held by Blind Outdoor Leisure Development.

By Alex Porter, Staff Writer

Some people may think of skateboarding as an activity only for skilled athletes who have overcome a steep learning curve. However, a growing skateboarding culture in Pittsburgh has made it a mission to include people of all abilities.

Pitt graduate student Hana Goodman’s work with blind individuals exemplifies the skating community’s efforts for inclusion. On April 28, Goodman spearheaded an event to teach blind individuals how to skateboard, collaborating with Blind Outdoor Development (BOLD) and Switch and Signal Skatepark.

BOLD had already established a long history of partaking in any and all activities. This visually impaired community holds weekly events, aiming to promote activities for the blind community. With the help of volunteers, the group expanded from focusing on only downhill skiing to partaking in rowing in the Allegheny, playing tennis and belly dancing. In addition to physical activities, they offer social and cultural activities, ranging from picnics and bingo to listening to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Goodman took inspiration for the event from adaptive skaters like those featured in the Paralympics.

“From the blind community, there’s a big interest in how they’re [adaptive skaters] able to skateboard and navigate this with a disability,” Goodman said.

As a result, a growing number of blind individuals seek out skateboarding lessons. Lessons for the blind community remain sparse, as the adaptive skateboarders oftentimes knew how to skateboard before losing their sight.

“There wasn’t really any information or anything going on in the skate world that was geared towards getting people who have a disability and haven’t skated before started skating,” Goodman said. “So, there’s still this need to promote the importance of teaching people with disabilities and reaching out to them.”

Goodman, equipped with two years of experience as a skateboarding coach, knew they possessed the skills to help address this issue. However, they could not accomplish this goal alone, needing help from a multitude of organizations and volunteers to make this dream a reality.

They started the initiative by partnering with Switch and Signal Skatepark. Goodman, a coach at the skatepark, previously discussed opportunities for community outreach with the park’s owner Kerry Weber. Weber shared Goodman’s enthusiasm from the start as he always envisioned the park as a space accessible to all skateboarders.

“You know, one of the reasons that I started this skate park was to make a space that would be open and designed for people who are not traditional skateboarders,” Weber said. “That’s the founding principles of this park. So even before this event, this was something on our radar that could be built into our future.”

Weber incorporated his desire for inclusivity into the physical design of the park by ensuring the park included areas for skateboarders of all abilities. Switch and Signal Skate Park had prior experience with adaptive skating, partnering with Pitt Sports Medicine to help a wheelchair user show his sons how to skate.

Now, with a viable park, Goodman needed participants for the event. After reaching out to a variety of organizations, and met by skepticism and rejection, they finally found an organization willing to partake — Blind Outdoor Leisure Development.

“And then finally, I reached out to Blind Outdoor Leisure Development and they were the first people to be like, ’Oh hell yeah, let’s do it’,” Goodman said. “It took a lot to try to get one organization on board with coming in, so I’m very thankful for them.” 

Nancy Leverett, president of BOLD, says she has a deep passion for her organization’s activities.

“[My favorite BOLD event] is whichever one I’m doing at the time,” Leverett said. “I haven’t picked one and said, ‘You know, this is my only activity. This is the only thing that I’m going to do.’ I really like doing them all. So, yeah, whichever one I’m doing is my favorite.”

By collaborating with Switch Signal Skatepark and taking recommendations from BOLD members, Goodman devised a multitude of accommodations to assist the participants. 

“BOLD suggested we create a swell map, which is a type of tactile map,” Goodman said. “So, I made a tactile map at the skate park. And then I replaced the bolts of the skateboard with bolts that have large heads on them so they could feel where to put their feet.”

Goodman also made other accommodations in the park’s physical space.

“We also outlined the skate park with low pin tape,” Goodman said. “So that for any of the freestanding obstacles they could feel an indicator that a pretty standard obstacle was coming.”

In addition to these accommodations, Goodman utilized her coaching experience to create a task-analysis video, explaining step-by-step how to skateboard with the accommodations. 

Some of the nine volunteers and 11 participants expressed their enjoyment of the activities.

“One one of these women was just like straight giddy screaming,” Goodman said. “[She said] ‘This is such a ball,’ while going down a ramp. I had multiple participants come up and thank me during the event. And when I woke up the next morning, 12 hours later, I had a message from one of the board members asking me when we were going again.”

After an overwhelmingly positive reaction, all parties anticipate holding similar skate sessions over the summer. In the coming weeks, Switch Signal Skate Park plans on hosting a smaller group of participants to refine the accommodations and receive more feedback for these events.

“Everyone was very happy afterward,” Goodman said. “And they just shared what a positive experience they had and thanked me for kind of getting them involved in this and I just felt like it was a really wholesome event for the community”

In addition, both organizations maintain plenty of opportunities to get involved in the Pittsburgh community. Switch Signal Skate Park hosts a Women and Trans skate night where a portion of proceeds go to local LGBTQ charities. They also plan to hold their annual Pride Roll in Squirrel Hill this June.

Blind Outdoor Leisure Development organizes new activities every month. The organization plans to try fencing soon in addition to their current lineup of activities. BOLD always stays on the lookout for new members, volunteers and participants — especially college students.

“We would love to have more participation if there were Pitt students interested,” Leverett said. “We’ve had Pitt students, you know, work with us on our downhill skiing and on our orientation and mobility program students have worked with us, but you don’t have to have any special skills. We just want people excited to participate.”

Leverett called the event a “phenomenal experience” she can’t wait to do again. 

“I mean, she [Leverett] just thanked me and kind of talked about how having a visual disability can kind of lock you into this space where you know what you’re comfortable with and you don’t really get outside of that box,” Goodman said. “And for somebody to ask to do an event that kind of threw them so far out of their box, far beyond whatever they imagine doing, she said was a phenomenal experience that they can’t wait to do again.”

Leverett added that events that bring together people of all abilities are meaningful experiences for all parties involved.

“Well, it [volunteering] will give you maybe a greater understanding or comfort with us,” Leverett said. “Sometimes people aren’t comfortable with people with disabilities and we’re just people. You know, we’re just people, we just don’t see the same as everybody else. And helping us out in these events, getting to know us, truly transforms our lives.”