Marc Palay upgraded himself to become a diving instructor but he didn’t stop there. He saw people with handicaps and wanted to bring the joy of diving to them. He took special training to teach the disabled.
He works a lot with people whose disability is from the waist down. “Once in a wetsuit, the disability disappears. In the water, they swim with their hands. They don’t move their legs. It’s a new life. They can move freely.”
There is an A, B or C classification for disabled divers, which means the disabled can always get a certification even if there are certain things they cannot do. The A category enables them to do basically whatever they want when accompanied by anyone with at least a basic certification. It is the equivalent of the open water certification for able-bodied divers. B is restricted and C requires that their dive buddy is an instructor or a dive master.
Palay says disabled dive students often come to the sport with considerable confidence. “A lot of these people are very active. They go to the pool often. They are really hungry. They want to try scuba diving.”
There are disabilities that can be overcome and allow people to dive. “A common one is that they are paralyzed from the waist down by an accident. Most of them have use of their arms. There are also a few blind people, quite a few with MS. and some with only one arm.
Palay, who teaches scuba at Vancouver New World Diving, says their dive boat is wheelchair accessible. This opens up off-shore diving for the disabled. New World offers dive boat charters for both disabled and able-bodied divers in the Howe Sound and Indian Arm areas.
Palay started diving in Martinique and Guadeloupe in 1969 and moved to Canada the following year. He became and PADI diving instructor and is also a TDI (Technical Diving International) nitrox instructor. But his goal was to help people with disabilities. To enhance his teaching skills with disabled dive students he earned an HSA (Handicap Scuba Association) instructor certification.
He has been an HSA instructor for more than 15 years. Palay also instructs for the Pacific Northwest Scuba Challenge Association. This club brings able-bodied and physically-challenged people together to share their diving experiences and enjoy the social atmosphere.