Watching Dan Mancina’s skate videos it is hard not to be awestruck. Mancina, 32, has flow that makes grinds and tricks look effortless, pulling off complicated board flips, jumps, and stalls with precision and ease. The tricks would be impressive for anyone to execute, but even more so for Mancina because he’s blind.
At 13 Mancina was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare genetic disease in which the back wall of the retina is damaged and eventually leads to vision loss. He started losing his sight gradually at first throughout his teens. But by his mid- to late-20s the loss of vision came in larger chunks. After completely losing sight in his left eye Mancina needed to give up driving. At that point that Mancina started defining himself as a blind person.
For a while the diagnosis had him pretty down. He assumed that there were things in his life that were over, skateboarding being one of them.
“There was a pause to figure out some life, who I was and what I was as a blind person,” Mancina said in an interview. “But I realized my life was incomplete without skateboarding…I couldn’t let my vision dictate who I was and what I did.”
The path back to skating actually started through Mancina’s Instagram. He filmed videos of himself doing random activities—darts, beer pong—in an effort to show that just because 90 percent of his vision was lost, it didn’t mean he wasn’t the same person.
Eventually he made the decision to try skating again and asked himself, What did skating look like for people who can’t see? What are the ways that he needed to change his approach to skating to achieve the most success?
Mancina started out by making a small bench and attempting to do a front board. From there, little by little, he developed the techniques and patterns he uses for his successful skate career today.
“It’s utilizing anything I can to stay on the board,” said Mancina. “Whether that’s my cane or utilizing my other senses, it’s all feel.”
Mancina’s process is slow. First he walks over to whatever area he wants to skate and assesses it as best he can. He uses his cane to feel everything out, checking for any large identifiable factors to distinguish the area, and listening for distinctive sounds that can help give him a sense of the space.
After sussing out the location he starts off with the most basic move, an ollie onto a ledge, to warm up before figuring out the best tricks and what will look coolest. The techniques have led to some pretty wild tricks that have earned Mancina’s videos viral status online. Whie his vision does impede some tricks, Mancina has found a style that is all his own.
“It’s always cool when people are sharing your work. The whole reason I did it was to change the way people viewed me,” said Mancina. “It’s good knowing it reaches people. It hopefully changes perceptions people have for the blind and visually impaired.”
The attention Mancina has received for his skating over the past few years has been huge. He now has multiple sponsors, including Adidas and Real Skateboards. He does motivational speaking gigs across North America and teaches a skateboarding course at the Ohio School for the Blind. He’s started his own nonprofit, Keep Pushing Ink, which aims to teach people with disabilities how to skateboard.
Mancina’s first goal, though, is to open an accessible skatepark in his home state of Michigan.
For the skatepark to meet accessibility needs Mancina has several ideas. Textured ground will help guide skaters to different objects in the park, like ramps or rails. For those who still have some vision, high-contrast colour-coating will differentiate sections of the park. Ramps themselves need to be made wheelchair accessible. Sound will help users situate themselves in different areas.
“The more experiences and activities you can introduce (visually impaired people) to, the more you can help expand their minds to what they’re capable of,” said Mancina. “It all goes back to my original goal (to) push back against the stigma and perceptions people have for the visually impaired. A lot of people don’t think we can do much of anything and it’s important to show them that visual impairment shouldn’t be such a limiting factor in someone’s life.”
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