top of page

Why I Became a Disability Advocate

Like many individuals who have become disabled, it took time for me to accept and find a way to adapt to my new life. I had always enjoyed nature's comfort and healing qualities. The challenge for me, though, was to find recreation areas that were wheelchair accessible.

I decided that going to parks would be a good start for reconnecting to nature. As I became more comfortable using my manual wheelchair, I started looking for accessible hiking trails.

As time went on, I found out that not all parks were fully accessible. Some had inadequate accessible parking. Others had accessible parking spots that were too far from a trail entrance requiring me to travel behind parked vehicles. A common restroom issue was a soap or paper dispenser that was out of reach.

Soap dispenser way out of reach for someone in a wheelchair.

There were issues with trails that were labeled as being wheelchair accessible but were not entirely safe. One trail was very steep, and the ground surface had loose dirt and rocks, which could cause the wheels on a wheelchair to lose traction. Other trails were poorly maintained. One had large ruts and uneven ground, while another had overgrowth making the trail unpassable.

At one of my favorite Open Space Preserves, I couldn't reach the soap dispenser in the restroom there. It looked to be an easy and cheap fix to lower it, so I contacted the agency in charge and informed them of this problem. A few days later, they sent me an email thanking me for letting them know and that they would send someone out to fix it. Sure enough, the next time I went there, not only was the soap dispenser lower and within reach, but also the hand air blower.

Both soap dispenser and hand air blower are now within reach.

Over the next couple of years, I continued contacting park and recreation agencies around the San Francisco Bay Area about any access problem I encountered.

In 2017, I began volunteering for Santa Clara County Parks. I spent several months visiting their parks and doing accessible assessments at each location. My reports were welcomed, and any problem I had listed was fixed. I also wrote several park and trail reviews, which were then posted on their website.

Checking the height from the ground to the top of the picnic table. Federal standards says it should be 27 inches minimum.

Currently, I am in a partnership with Santa Clara Valley Authority Open Space. It has been an enriching experience working with them on accessibility issues and sharing my personal experiences connecting with nature.

One of the two powerpoint presentations that I have given for Santa Clara Valley Authority Open Space.

In the last few years, park and recreation management around the Bay Area have made progress in having equal access. There is still a lot more work that needs to be done to have every park barrier-free and inclusive for everyone. The following are my suggestions:

  1. Having the disability community more involved with any planning or advice for accessibility at parks or accessible trails.

  2. Every accessible trail is much appreciated, but many of them are less than a mile. Have more accessible trails a mile or longer would be very beneficial for those using mobility devices.

  3. Using social platforms and TV to better market which parks and trails are accessible.

  4. Whenever there is a nature contest at a park or a hiking trail, have the contest also available for the disability community.

The answer to why I became a disability advocate is because we should all try and contribute to our communities. As a wheelchair user, it is essential to share my experiences with recreation agencies with accessibility issues. Having barrier-free parks and well-maintained accessible trails benefits not just the disabled community but for everyone.

Being able to do my part in making a difference has been very rewarding, as it is for anyone that volunteer’s their help. I am hopeful that this year I can continue helping our recreation areas be inclusive for everyone.


bottom of page