UW News

February 2, 2023

Hitting the snow with a new course on accessibility and disability justice

UW News

It’s ski season and cold sunny days fill outdoor enthusiasts with delight. East of Seattle, Snoqualmie Pass is a popular destination, but ski areas usually come with stairs, crowds and an infrastructure generally built for skiers and snowboarders who ride solo and on two legs.   

Observing this winter activity through a lens of accessibility and disability justice is the point of a new class developed by UW Bothell associate teaching professor Jason Naranjo. His course, “Disability & Society A Focus on Community and the Outdoors,” pairs UW students with skiers from Outdoors for All, an organization that provides adaptive outdoor activities for people who, for cognitive or physical reasons, can’t simply pop on skis and hit the slopes. 

Close up of Jason Naranjo in a helmet with ski goggles and skiers behind him.

UW Bothell associate teaching professor Jason Naranjo

The UW students serve as volunteer ski instructors while also getting to know the program participants and their individual strengths and limitations they adjust bindings, give tips and encouragement, and talk over support strategies with family members.  The skiers learn to ski  — downhill or cross-country   and the students learn from being part of that ski experience. 

Naranjo has been teaching about disability justice, inclusion and access for years, mostly in a classroom. This new course, a community-based learning model, was a natural next step for students who asked how they could use their education to make a difference.  

“What’s happening here is applied learning. This is the way our world works outside of university classrooms. And I think it’s really great when we can create authentic spaces for our students to learn in,” Naranjo said. “To me that’s where the rubber meets the road.”  

UW student Zoe Null, a lifelong skier, is minoring in disability studies and volunteering as part of the course. 

“Being able to take all this theory that we’ve learned in class and really apply it has given me something tangible to hold on to,” she said. 

“Here is an actual hill somebody has to get down, and how do we make it adaptable?”  

This winter, 17 students from UW’s Bothell and Seattle campuses and a variety of majors are volunteering at Stevens or Snoqualmie Pass each weekend for the course. The service-learning component of the class makes up 70% of the course; Naranjo and his students also meet on Zoom once a week.  

“When they graduate from the UW and become citizens in our world, they can make change,” said Naranjo. “They can advocate for someone and alongside someone.” 

Scene of chair lift on in a snowy area with skiers being transported on a chair above.

Chair lift at Summit at Snoqualmie ski area.