Is Nature Barrier-free and Accessible?
Millions of Americans enjoy being outdoors and enjoying the health benefits that nature provides. In a perfect world, nature would be barrier-free and inclusive to everyone. Understandably, some natural barriers, such as steep terrain, would be difficult for those that are disabled. But, as I have experienced, there are human-made barriers to nature as well.
A human-made barrier-free environment enables those with disabilities to move unimpeded and has equal access within an environment. Recreation areas, like a parks, should be accessible and inclusive to everyone. But, that is not always the case.
Parks allow visitors to be outdoors and enjoy nature, and for some, going to a park is the only access they have to nature. Scientific studies have shown that being out in nature has a positive effect on physical and mental wellbeing. It releases muscle tension, lowers blood pressure and heart rate, boosts the immune system, and reduces stress.
A park should have accessible parking, restrooms, and park elements, like picnic tables. When a park isn't fully accessible, not only does that keep some from enjoying nature, but it also denies them the health benefits of nature.
As a wheelchair user since 1996, there were several times where a park wasn't fully accessible. Some had inadequate parking, restrooms were not fully accessible, and picnic tables on uneven ground. The most common problem I found at a park's restroom was that the soap dispenser was mounted too high and out of reach for me.
To put this in perspective, here is a park scenario one might encounter.
· There is limited parking, and the only parking spot available has another car parking
over the white line. Though you can park there, everyone in the vehicle can only get out
on one side.
· The restroom is closed due to maintenance.
· There is only one picnic table available, and the bench on one side is damaged. So, not
everyone in your group can sit at that picnic table.
· The drinking fountain isn't working, and you didn't bring bottles of water.
· It took one hour to drive to this park.
· What would everyone's mood be? Upset or frustrated? Would you come back?
This scenario is genuine for many that are disabled, including me. It is very frustrating when we don't have the same equal access as others have. Even if it has accessible parking and a restroom, if not all of the park elements are accessible, then this park isn't fully accessible. All parts of the park have to be accessible to everyone.
As a community, it is our responsibility to provide inclusion and equity to our recreation areas. By doing so, we are also inherently providing ways to maintain and protect our natural resources for future generations.