Nova Scotia

Family makes accessible zip line for daughter with cerebral palsy

Olivia Gushue, 8, is having a blast after her parents made modifications to their backyard zip line in Nova Scotia to accommodate her and her wheelchair.

Olivia Gushue can now play on the zip line with her brother and sister

Olivia Gushue's family began working to make their backyard zip line wheelchair accessible last year. (Kaitlyn Swan/CBC)

Eight-year-old Olivia Gushue used to watch as her two siblings glided through the air on a zip line in their parents' Nova Scotia backyard.

Now, she gets to experience it for herself, using a new modification that holds both her and the wheelchair she depends on to get around.

Her mom Robin said watching her daughter go down the zip line for the first time was worth all the work that went into creating a safe, secure way for her to enjoy the outdoor activity.

"It was a labour of love," she said.

"It was super exciting seeing her face light up and just the sheer joy and excitement."

With the modifications, the whole family can now enjoy the backyard zip line. (Kaitlyn Swan/CBC)

Olivia was born with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, a condition that affects muscle function and control. She uses a motorized wheelchair to move around and communicates through a program called Eyegaze.

Just over two years ago, Robin and her husband, Craig, installed a zip line in the backyard of their Lewis Lake, N.S., home.

Once they saw how much Olivia loved watching her brother and sister play on it, Robin said they decided to see if there was also a way for her to enjoy it.

"There was a lot of research that had to go into the planning and the preparation of putting the zip line in, and that was just for Nicholas and Kameron," she said.

"But to go that extra step to make it so that it was accessible for Olivia, Craig did a lot of research. He checked out various websites and really took a lot of time planning as to how he was going to do that."

'It gives her that feeling of freedom and independence'

The Gushues began working on the project last year. While there were no changes made to the zip line itself, Robin said the bulk of the work was figuring out a safe way to get Olivia's wheelchair attached to it.

They built some attachments on her wheelchair that could attach to the zip line. They also built a temporary ramp that would allow her to glide off.

Robin said her daughter loves using the zip line.

Olivia's family put attachments on the wheelchair to safely hook it up to the zip line. (Kaitlyn Swan/CBC)

"For a child that spends the majority of her life in a wheelchair and [is] super dependent on everybody else, to be able to experience moments like this, I think it gives her that feeling of freedom and independence," she said.

The zip line measures about 76 metres and Olivia uses about a third of it.

While Olivia loves the zip line as is, Robin said she and her husband will continue to make modifications this summer.

Robin Gushue says her daughter, Olivia, loves riding the zip line. (Kaitlyn Swan/CBC)

"We never say that we're totally finished because we're always looking at ways to improve it to make it even that much better for her," she said.

Robin and her husband run a not-for-profit organization called Living Outside the Lines, which helps provide financial assistance to families with children who have special needs.

Not enough accessible activities

Robin said she hopes the project will inspire others to make their homes and spaces more accessible.

Although she describes her daughter as an "adventure seeker," she said it can be tough to find summertime activities that she can do.

While planning ahead for family vacations, Robin said it involves a lot of calls and research to see if Olivia will be able to enjoy it too.

"[If] we can't do it all together as a family, we don't do it at all," she said.

Robin said she'd like to see more accessible parks, amusement rides and other popular family activities that Olivia — and other children with mobility issues — could participate in.

"That would be a dream to see those things happen, to be able to have more opportunities for her to participate in everyday summer activities like every other kid," she said.

With files from Kaitlyn Swan