SailWise: The added value of water sports activities for people with disabilities (COMPLETED)

The SailWise Foundation offers water sports activities and opportunities for people with physical, sensory or mental disability. But what effect does this unique experience have on the participants? This project by the Science Shop of Wageningen UR (Wetenschapswinkel) examines how participation in water sports activities is experienced by people with a disability. Particular attention is paid to the impact of these activities on the (daily) lives of the participants.

SailWise is a non-profit organization that offers adventurous water sport holidays for people with physical and intellectual disabilities. With four accommodations in three different locations in The Netherlands (, the organization relies heavily on a team of enthusiastic, dedicated volunteers to support holiday-makers with disabilities as they sail clippers and dinghies, paddle in canoes and kayaks, and learn to windsurf and water-ski.

The impact of SailWise holidays

SailWise has found anecdotally that participation in its holidays yields positive results that extend into participants’ daily lives even after they return home. Does scholarly research support these findings? To answer this question, SailWise asked the Wageningen University and Research’s Science Shop to investigate the impacts of SailWise holidays on participants. Nine student research projects were subsequently carried out, one of which will appear as a chapter in the forthcoming book Tourism, Health and Wellbeing in Protected Areas (2017, in press).

A highly appreciated unique approach

The studies show that SailWise’s unique approach – one that focuses on what people can do (not what they can’t), includes everyone in decision-making processes and creates the feeling of being on a special adventure together – is highly appreciated by diverse groups of participants (e.g., younger or older, with or without prior water sport experience, with physical and/or intellectual disabilities, whether congenital or acquired) as well as by their families, care-givers and teachers.

Results indicate that participation in water sport activities may positively affect participants beyond the holiday itself, fostering greater independence, coping capacity and self-confidence and improved body image (see, e.g., Berends, 2017; Isrif, 2017; Peters, 2017; Wagenaar and Vaandrager, 2017).

Findings from the research project suggest that more significant long-term effects of participation in active water sport holidays will be more pronounced among the following groups:

  • participants wrapping up a clinical rehabilitation programme;
  • participants with limited opportunities to feel constructively challenged in their home environments;
  • younger participants exploring their boundaries as part of their developmental process.

Contribution to a burgeoning field of study

Accessible tourism and leisure opportunities for people with disabilities constitute both a burgeoning market and field of study. In addition to providing SailWise with insight into the effects of its holidays on participants, this project has also contributed to scholarship on accessible tourism via at least one peer-reviewed scholarly publication (see Wagenaar and Vaandrager,2017) and its contributions to theoretical development (see Schmitz, 2017) and to methodological development.