All Abilities Night: Making the Dream of Flight a Reality for the Special Needs Community

For local Portland families living with disabilities, daily life might include a series of obstacles.  From extended preparation for outings to therapy appointments, members of the special needs community can have more on their plate than many of their peers. Opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities within their communities also may be limited. The team at iFLY, an indoor skydiving facility located in Tigard, recognized a need within the community to provide customized programs for those with physical and cognitive challenges and create more inclusive activities and experiences that allow all families, regardless of ability, the chance to set aside their stresses and have fun.
“All Abilities Night” was born from the love and compassion of fellow iFLY Portland employees who shared a personal connection to those in the special needs community. Children and adults are able to come to the tunnel and experience the beauty and exhilarating joy of flight without feeling rushed or otherwise separated from the rest of the class. The team at iFLY takes great care to meet the necessary individual accommodations of each participant. At the time the program launched at iFLY Portland, All Abilities Night was so well received by the community that it has since become a monthly and global corporate initiative.
What might be a simple bucket-list experience for some, can mean a chance to overcome the impossible to others. Maggie Roberts, a special needs parent, explained that the All Abilities program has “given my children a chance to defy their handicaps, along with the very laws of gravity.”
Christine Engelke attended an All Abilities Night with her son and said, “For my son, who has so many difficulties with learning and few friends, it means a lot to have done something ‘cool’ that he can be proud of and brag about, just like other kids.”
Indoor skydiving also can provide a unique form of therapy, both physical and mental. Jamison Currie, 21, has been diagnosed with Lesch-Nyhan syndrome and is wheelchair-bound. Jamison attended the very first All Abilities Night and has flown at every single one since.
Jamison said, “Flying allows me freedom from my chair and my Lesch-Nyhan syndrome. It allows me to hang out with a bunch of people who see past my wheelchair and see my abilities; they see a person, not a wheelchair. Flying equals freedom!”
Since launching the program in Portland last year, All Abilities Night is now available at all iFLY tunnels nationwide. It is our hope that this movement will continue to grow—that other organizations in a variety of industries will begin to customize their services and experiences for the special needs community and their families.

By Christie Matheis, General Manager at iFly Portland

About Mary Brady

Mary Brady was born and raised in the PNW and has been in Oregon since 2006. She currently lives on the westside of the river with her two children and has dreams of drinking Earl Grey tea and snuggling with baby animals. Mary is the Web Editor for NW Kids.