Healthcare partnerships: Reaching new heights through Mixed Ability climbing!

The Mixed Ability model: contributing to the SDGs and a more sustainable future
26/05/2022

Since 2019, IMAS has provided experiential learning opportunities for healthcare students and practitioners. The placements have been shown to equip participants with the knowledge, skills and confidence to support disabled patients. This is crucial in reducing the inequalities disabled people still face in accessing high quality healthcare[1].

Establishing partnerships

In January 2022, ten 3rd Year Medical students from the University of Sheffield participated in a 4-week placement with IMAS. As part of an IMAS placement, students are partnered with an IMAS Trainer. To work out pairings, IMAS Trainers and students introduce themselves and the group explore areas of mutual interest. The resulting pairings then work together to establish preferred methods of communication depending on accessibility needs and preferences, and go on to design and coproduce a project together.

Mixed Ability climbing!

When IMAS Trainer Mark G heard that one of the students, Rebekah, was a keen rock climber, he knew instantly he wanted to be paired with her. Mark fondly remembered his time rock climbing at school but hadn’t climbed since, so when this opportunity presented itself Mark was keen that together they organise an indoor Mixed Ability rock-climbing session!

The session was held at The Climbing Hub in Bradford and was attended by a mix of participants, including IMAS trainers, the medical students and a group from the Leeds University Union Mountaineering Club. Always the first to give the climbing activities an enthusiastic go was Mark, whose skill and fierce determination saw him reach impressive heights. With the support of their experienced instructors, the Mixed Ability participants explored different types of indoor climbing such as bouldering, bell ringing, and self-belay climbing.

Reflections and ripples

Rebekah and Mark had discussed his climbing ability when they were planning the event. Rebekah expressed surprise that Mark already had experience of climbing at school:

‘I had all these sorts of conceptions of what would need to be done and then he’s actually already climbed and can do it all so that was quite eye opening.’  – Rebekah, 3rd year Medical Student.

After the session, Rebekah reflected that, due to his disability, she had still assumed Mark would need additional support or adaptations to help him with climbing. In fact, none of the Mixed Ability participants needed any adaptations to climbing, which really challenged Rebekah’s perceptions on what Mixed Ability climbing would be like. This interaction reinforced to her the importance of taking an asset-based approach with people.

When Mark was asked if he had enjoyed climbing he said “I felt alive, and it felt magic!”. He, and Rupert, another IMAS trainer, enjoyed it so much that they have plans to return to climb again soon. In fact, Rupert has signed up for membership at the club and has completed 2 training sessions already! As a result of this shared experience, they have also developed a closer friendship and continue to enjoy spending time together in the weekly IMAS meetings.

“[Rebekah] turned [Mark’s] world from monochrome to colour … We often don’t understand the impacts we have on people. When creating a positive ripple in someone’s life, that ripple goes beyond what we see.” – Mark P, Former GP and IMAS Non-Executive Director. Through the IMAS healthcare placement and the joint determination and efforts of Mark G and Rebekah, friendships have been made, passions for hobbies have been reignited, perceptions have been challenged, new connections have been forged and a new sport has been introduced to the world of Mixed Ability.


[1] Health Equity in England: The Marmot Review 10 Years On – The Health Foundation

Blog post by Nifty Sustainability

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