Outward Bound Canada
Outward Bound Canada News
November 30, -0001

An empowering backcountry adventure for deaf and hard of hearing youth

In October 2023, a group of eight young people embarked on a journey that showed them they were capable of much more than they had ever imagined.

On a challenging hike through Garibaldi Provincial Park in British Columbia, the grade 10-12 students, who are deaf and/or hard of hearing, left technology and assistive devices behind… and relied solely on themselves and their peers to succeed in the wilderness.

Five days later, they returned home with renewed confidence and ready for all of life’s challenges — and we at Outward Bound Canada (OBC) couldn’t be happier to have been part of this journey.


The expedition was an initiative of the B.C. Provincial Outreach Program: Deaf and Hard of Hearing (POPDHH), which wanted to give students the opportunity to work together on a challenging task in an environment where they had to rely on each other.

Since the POPDHH team did not have the expertise to provide outdoor education, they partnered with OBC, drawing on our previous experience working with students from the BC School for the Deaf. OBC supported the project financially with funding from the Telus Friendly Future Foundation as part of our goal to make the outdoors accessible to all youth in Canada.

According to Terry Maloney, POPDHH’s vice-principal, the goal of the expedition was to provide students with a unique bonding experience where they could make connections with other signing students in British Columbia, and develop their own sense of identity:

– These deaf and hard of hearing students are often isolated or the only member of their local community using American Sign Language (ASL). This comes with a lot of anxiety and pressure. In the OBC course, they experienced a strong sense of connection and stress relief by being outside with others who experience the same thing. The participants had opportunities to show leadership qualities in this group that they might not have had in their home communities.

In addition to the OBC instructors, the students were accompanied by Terry and another Deaf mentor, Reighan Helyer, as well as two ASL interpreters, Nathalie Freyvogel and Rebekah Zorbakis, who also served as chaperones.

When selecting participants, POPDHH considered students who are learning or using ASL as their primary language and whether they would benefit from connecting with peers who also use ASL to further develop their skills and build confidence in the language. “This gave the students the opportunity to experience a Deaf world outside of their hearing environment, which they often have to adapt to,” adds Terry.


Terry says that the group that embarked on the journey knew little about each other at first, but that quickly changed:

– Over the course of the week, I witnessed remarkable interaction between these youth from diverse backgrounds and ASL levels. The expedition also served as a platform to encourage language development, self-advocacy and self-assuredness among the participants; and they accomplished all without the use of technology or specialized equipment, relying solely on their authentic selves. It was an amazing transformation that we all experienced through the offerings of nature in beautiful British Columbia.

The other Deaf mentor, Reighan Hellyer, describes the impressive development of the participants during the trip:

– It was amazing to see all the students come together, work hard and experience the challenge together as well as independently. It was something you had to see with your own eyes. Everyone supported and encouraged each other to complete the hike and overcome the challenging parts. They took turns and shared the duties without hesitation. I could tell that they all learned so much about each other and about themselves on this journey. I saw how each individual grew from the first day to the last. There were many remarkable moments and beautiful sceneries to explore and hike through. I was glad that I was able to witness this moment in these students’ lives that they will remember forever.

Terry says it was clear to see how the students progressed through the experience from using more spoken language and relying on their listening skills to being fully immersed in a Deaf world as their equipment and devices such as hearing aids and Cochlear Implants stopped working. In addition, some participants were hiking for the first time and had limited beliefs about their abilities:

– They surprised themselves by how hard they could push themselves to complete the task and worked together as a team to get everyone through challenges. The students told us how much more confident they were after the expedition, that they now appreciate nature much more, that they have made great new friends, that they no longer rely on technology (not even their cell phones!) and that their school backpacks feel much lighter now!


This once-in-a-lifetime experience was possible thanks to the generous support of our donors. OBC was able to fund the entire cost of the expedition for the group, while POPDHH covered the accessibility costs (ASL interpreters) and travel expenses for students living outside of B.C. Lower Mainland.

This is just one example of how outdoor education can transform lives for the better and give youth the confidence they need to succeed in school, work, and life – something Terry wholeheartedly recommends from his experience:

– This was a life-changing experience for our students and we would recommend it to other organizations looking for a unique opportunity. It shows that all students can participate in and benefit from outdoor education, no matter what their barriers are.


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