Thursday, September 27, 2012

Get Out! Equal Enjoyment of the Great Outdoors

Get Out! Equal Enjoyment of the Great Outdoors

Every neighborhood needs a Walden Pond in their back yard, a place where people can be in nature and reconnect to themselves, to the land, and to each other. ~ Open Spaces, Sacred Spaces (

Years ago, when I lived in New Hampshire, I remember desiring the opposite. Occasionally, I would find myself in pursuit of an enclosed mall because I was surrounded by open spaces. This was especially true during the winter months, when cabin fever would hit me the worst. I have never really enjoyed shopping in malls. It was more of an issue of having the ability to move around freely without any obstacles that was important. Now, after over twenty years of living in the suburbs in a less severe climate and environment, I truly understand the importance of accessibility within the home landscape as well as to public outdoor spaces to the fullest extent possible.

My first house on 6 acres in NH.

As a person who uses a wheelchair, I understand the necessity of concrete and other compacted materials that permit easier maneuvering for anyone who has any type of mobility disability. I’ve incorporated a stamped concrete path into my own landscape to enhance my own ability to travel independently throughout my yard. My pathway circulates completely around the entire property, front and back. (My lot is less than ¾ of an acre.) As a homeowner, I knew beforehand that I would probably never recoup this expenditure. The expense was for my own sanity. I am a gardener, and I simply enjoy gardening. To a large extent, my ability to connect with nature has been my therapy, both physically and mentally.

Even though I have created this environment within my own suburban oasis, I still love that feeling of getting out to the countryside. Maybe it’s simply the escape from the obnoxious sound of leaf blowers. Who knows? I am quite fortunate in that it only takes me 25 minutes to find farmland. (That is, if there is no traffic.)

Once again this week I have had the opportunity to get out and review a farm for a proposed accessible garden. (This is the part of what I am doing that I truly love.) I always tell myself beforehand that it is a farm, and generally that means it’s probably off of a dirt road too. Regardless of its location, if it is open to the public, the same basic regulations and requirements for accessibility apply. The ADA requires equal access to goods and services. This includes accessible parking as well as accessible routes of travel whenever possible. Pushing or lifting an individual with a disability is not considered a reasonable accommodation.

Sometimes honestly, I’m actually a little bit caught off guard when I visit someplace that I expect to be very accessible and I discover it isn't quite up to my expectations, especially when they offer outdoor programs to people with disabilities.(I don’t know why I’m still surprised considering the number of doctor’s offices that still don’t provide compliant access.) Yet, you still assume that any place that works with people with disabilities on a daily basis would be accessible to the fullest extent possible. Obviously and understandably the foremost priority has been towards program access, and I fully understand that non-profits often have to squeeze by with very limited financial resources.

I honestly believe that in most cases it is more of an issue of not knowing, rather than of not caring. I am also convinced that Building Inspectors could help eliminate many potential issues by informing any business, whether it is a restaurant or a farm, of their entire responsibility under all laws, and not just when the entity changes the use of a facility.

Unfortunately for the business owner, partial accessibility and “not knowing better” do not give them redemption under our judicial system. The obligation to provide access when it can be provided without an undue hardship is still there.

Fortunately for me, there has been a genuine interest and desire to provide greater access from the people who have asked me to visit their farms and gardens. This is incredibly encouraging! After all, I am ‘Access to the Garden.’ People with great attitudes are always a pleasure to work with. It simply makes sense that in order to have an accessible garden you have to be able to get to it easily first and foremost. One less barrier, is one less obstacle to overcome and is one step closer to promoting greater independence. Fantastic! Whenever possible, my objective is to help identify what needs to be done, and to help do something about it.

It is exciting for me to be a part of a project that will provide an opportunity for more people with disabilities to get outside and garden. An outdoor environment with a little extra attention given to firm, stable and slip resistant surface materials will provide an opportunity for everyone to benefit from the outdoor experience. The fun part will be creating a variety of raised beds at various heights that will accommodate children and adults with a variety of disabilities. Everyone deserves the opportunity to connect with nature. Garden on!

Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.” ~ Former President George H.W. Bush

"The time is always right to do what is right." ~
Martin Luther King, Jr.

1 comment:

  1. Everyone is equal outdoors!! As you say, arriving at a facility that claims physical therapy for the disabled and NOT being truly accessible must have been disappointing to say the least. funding, lack of knowledge and timid code inspectors aside, all barriers must be addressed for equal access to truly work. In places, the shameful wall still stands...