UF OT facilitates recreation for students of all abilities at Accessible Day at the Lake

OTD faculty and students standing at Lake Wauberg
Kaitlin Pelzer, Becky Piazza, Morgan Pleasants and Amber Nipper helped facilitate UF student participation at Accessible Day at the Lake.

The University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions department of occupational therapy recently joined with UF’s Disability Resource Center, Recreation Sports and Student Government to offer Accessible Day at the Lake. The event spotlights inclusive recreational activities available all year for students with disabilities at Lake Wauburg.

“Accessible Day at the Lake provides a strategic and intentional focus on accessibility and inclusion for everyone, where all who attend have a shared interest and investment in having fun together and championing one another,” said Becky Piazza, O.T.D., OTR/L, a clinical assistant professor in the PHHP department of occupational therapy.

More than 6,000 UF students, or about 10% of the total student population, are registered with the Disability Resource Center.

Securing accessible transportation to Lake Wauburg can be a challenge for students with disabilities, visible or invisible. Social and physical barriers at the lake, including getting in and out of kayaks or accessing the restrooms or boathouse, may prevent students with disabilities from experiencing the mental health benefits of spending time outdoors, Piazza said.

“Events like Accessible Day at the Lake mitigate these barriers,” she said. “Everyone arrives knowing things may look a little different and it’s no big deal. By providing accessible transportation and a multitude of available adapted outdoor recreation options, everyone is encouraged to join the fun at whatever level they are comfortable at, meet new people, and try new things. And as people of all ability levels participate, everyone, regardless of ability level, celebrates one another. It’s such a rich and beautiful demonstration of how alike we really all are.”

group at Accessible Day
Rachel Mandell, senior campus planner at UF Planning, Design & Construction; Robyn Clarke, UF master’s student and DRC graduate assistant; and OTD student Amanda Nipper.

Piazza and three second-year Doctor of Occupational Therapy students — Amber Nipper, Kaitlin Pelzer, and Morgan Pleasants — were on hand at Accessible Day at the Lake to help facilitate students’ participation and to offer use of an outdoor recreation wheelchair recently donated by the family of UF graduate Mariel White.

Occupational therapists work to empower participation and independence for all people of all ability levels in the everyday activities and roles in which they find meaning, Piazza said.

“By utilizing skilled handling and mobility techniques, various assistive technology and adaptive equipment and approaches, occupational therapists optimize an individual’s safe participation with a focus on teaching the individual how to direct what they need and self-manage adaptive strategies for themselves in the future,” she said.

For Nipper, Accessible Day at the Lake was an opportunity to be a part of an event where everyone can participate fully, without barriers.

“We are there to advocate for accessibility and help people accomplish the goals they have, including outdoor recreation,” Nipper said. “It is important to be reminded and to see that people with physical disabilities, invisible disabilities, and able-bodied people can do the same things with the right accommodations! Seeing and using these accommodations will be important for me in the future when I am helping my clients figure out what to ask for and what they can accomplish.”