BYU Today

Paralympian Teaches Accessible Recreation


Paralympian Keith Barney

Paralympian Keith Barney, ’84, helps BYU students understand how a disability affects daily life.

By Mary F. Dondiego, ’02

FOR Christina F. Rankin, ’02, the Department of Recreation Management and Youth Leadership’s accessible recreation class not only teaches how to accommodate people with disabilities but also helps her relate to her mother, who contracted polio at age three, and her father, who had a stroke last summer that paralyzed his right side.

“This class has helped me understand what my dad has been going through. Since his stroke, he has had to rely on other people for everything. His whole life has changed,” says Rankin. “Because of this class, I know that when someone has an accident it affects every aspect of life, especially recreation. It’s hard for those of us who haven’t gone through a similar experience to imagine how life changes.”

Keith W. Barney, ’84, a world champion cyclist and skier on the U.S. Paralympic Team, teaches accessible recreation. From a wheelchair, Barney, an adjunct professor and full-time social worker, teaches his students the physical nature of a disability while showing them how it directly affects daily life.

The class is designed both to teach interested students how to help people with disabilities and to train recreation management majors to become disability-recreation specialists.

Aside from lecturing and assigning textbook readings that discuss disability recreation methods, Barney requires his students to conduct an accessibility assessment of both an indoor and an outdoor facility according to standards set by the 1990 American Disability Act. Additionally, he assigns them to adopt a physical disability for a day. Students spend one full day living the disability and then report how it altered their self-concept and leisure lifestyle.

“Instead of just saying, ‘Oh, that would be a drag to not be able to use my hands,’ I want them to experience not being able to do that for a while,” says Barney.

Barney experienced a spinal-cord injury at age 14 in a hunting accident, leaving him unable to use his legs. His students credit a large part of their understanding and enjoyment of the class to their teacher’s life experiences.

“Other teachers would be going off what they have read or what they have experienced being around other people. Keith Barney is different,” says Rankin. “He’s lived through the experiences he’s teaching us about.”

Recreation management professor Howard R. Gray, ’69, who also teaches a section of the class, follows a curriculum similar to Barney’s. Gray requires his class to participate in an adopt-a-grandparent project, in which they befriend an elderly person with a disability.

Gray says Barney is a unique asset to the program. “We are so fortunate to have Keith teaching this class. The students’ lives will be changed because of knowing him.”