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Edmonton program connects disabled children with adaptive bikes

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Sat, Mar 2 - Riding a bike is something many of us might take for granted, but for kids with disabilities, it can seem impossible. An Edmonton program is helping change that. As Albert Delitala shows us, it's about much more than getting a little exercise.

An Edmonton program is aiming to make bicycle riding more accessible to children with special needs.

The adaptive bike loan effort, known as You Can Ride 2, allows area families to take home bikes for up to a year at a time, customized to the riders’ abilities.

“It’s pretty life-changing for him to be able to get out and do something that his sister does, that he sees his friends in the neighbourhood doing,” said Andrea Morris, whose son, Toby, is going onto his third summer using the program.

Toby, 7, has spina bifida, which for him means paralysis below his armpits, respiratory issues and other effects.

“Part of our journey with Toby is making sure that he’s as included as possible in everything that we’re doing,” said Justin Morris, his father. “So, when his sister is riding her bike around and stuff and he wants to as well, this is just a great way that he can do that.”

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A volunteer team of engineers, pediatric physiotherapists and occupational therapists work to ensure each bike is optimized to its rider’s needs.

Users experience a greater sense of inclusion along with a therapeutic and health benefits, according to Meredith Mantooth, the program coordinator.

“Sometimes it’s the only form of exercise that kids can have outside of their wheelchair,” Mantooth said. “It’s a good way to experience the world, and also maybe have better ties to their community by getting out and riding in parks and neighbourhoods.”

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In Toby’s case, his bike would cost several thousand dollars to buy, according to his mother. For them, renting it — with modifications each summer as he grows — makes his riding realistic.

“It’s an expense that we as a family wouldn’t be able to purchase for a growing child that would only use it for a few years,” she said.

You Can Ride 2, launched In 2012, has a fleet of 170 adaptive bikes, acquired through purchases, donations and fundraising.