Excursions and adventures

Whether visitors are looking to fish snorkel paddle in a kayak or just relax in the islands of Key Largo Capt. Michael “Mick” Nealy will figure out a way to make it happen. The longtime captain fit a 28-foot pontoon boat with a special lift and goes out of his way to accommodate special requests on hisTranquil Adventures fishing charters and eco-tours.

“I like to customize the trip for each family or individual because so many have such different abilities ” Nealy said. “Usually if they go with me a couple of times they start to figure out all the different things they can do and try.”

Nealy whose bout with polio at age 2 left him with mobility challenges his whole life knows all the best spots to explore and stays in calm waters to avoid any jostling on the boat. He’ll often take guests to a waterside tiki bar that can be reached via ramp or help rig someone with limited use of arms with a special fly fishing rod.

For the more serious fishing pros Florida Disabled Anglers holds six bass fishing tournaments every year. Disabled anglers are paired with boat captains and they compete against other disabled anglers on lakes throughout central Florida. Membership in FDA is free and the $30 entry fee into the tournaments is open to anyone.

Those who prefer to be with the fish might enjoy Island Dolphin Care a “dolphin therapy” adventure designed for children with special needs and wounded veterans. Programs range from half-day educational tours to five-day camps and they are intended to help children adults and families with developmental and physical disabilities emotional challenges and illnesses find solace and stimulation through interaction with dolphins known for their gentleness and intelligence.

In Naples the Alzheimer’s Support Network offers a free program sponsored by CREW Land and Water Trust providing early-onset Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers a monthly guided tour through Bird Rookery Swamp. The hour-and-a-half stroll along a mile of hard crushed-shell trail and boardwalk is narrated by a guide who points out wildlife and plants and tells stories about the history of the area. The guide also encourages the walkers to notice sights sounds and smells and everyone takes home an artifact or memento of the day.

Sarasota’s Marie Selby Botanical Gardens has an ADA-compliant horticulture feature the one-acre Ann Goldstein Children’s Rainforest Garden. The garden has a treetop canopy walk rope bridges a waterfall and lagoon and other hands-on features and a special lift helps give wheelchair-bound visitors a taste of treetop living.

Because there are so few cliffs and hills in Florida it’s an ideal state for wheelchair hiking through wildlife-rich wooded areas. Florida Hikes an excellent and comprehensive hiking website provides a great overview of wheelchair-friendly trails.

For a different kind of connection to nature – outer space – Kennedy Space Center is especially accommodating to disabled visitors and has a number of services and experiences catered toward those in wheelchairs or for the sight and hearing impaired. The IMAX Theaters have wheelchair lifts for those who want to sit in upper levels and ushers can provide special closed captioning reflective panels or descriptive audio devices to those who need them. American Sign Language interpreters can be reserved for the tours if reserved ahead of time.

The center also has a simulated Shuttle Launch Experience ride equipped with a pivoting grab bar that allows disabled guests to transfer directly from a wheelchair to a harnessed seat with an extended seat pan. There’s also an observation room for those who opt out of the ride but still want to experience the launch and watch their friends or family members inside the cabin.

Special Events

One of the biggest Florida events of the year for children and adults with physical or intellectual challenges is the springtime (usually in March) Boating and Beach Bash for People with Disabilities. Boca Raton’s beautiful Spanish River Park and Intercoastal Waterway set a peaceful backdrop to a flotilla of private yachts which families may ride for free. The event organizers also provide a free BBQ lunch a therapy animal area a fun kids’ zone and bands featuring musicians with disabilities play all day.

Every autumn a DisAbilities Expo is held at Ft. Lauderdale’s Nova Southeastern University where people come from all over to learn about new services and products watch a fashion runway show featuring models with disabilities cheer along to disabled athletics showcase games and other activities It’s a great way to learn about the latest in technology meet others with inspiring stories and get more involved in local and national advocacy groups.

And in Tallahassee the Florida Disabled Outdoors Association holds the free three-daySunshine State SportsAbility event each spring highlighting active and outdoor living for those with disabilities. Kids and adults can watch and participate in “miracle baseball ” adaptive golf interactive fishing simulator games martial arts and other therapeutic recreational sports. There’s also an “outdoor day ” where people are encouraged to try new activities such as sit-down water skiing hand-pedaled biking archery horseback riding and sailing.