Week 8: Ableism & Accessibility

Don't take nature for granted

In the already limited realm of outdoor DEI (Diversity, equity, inclusion), there is a serious lack of recognition for those with disabilities. This week I have an article on how to navigate National Parks with a disability, on how accessible campgrounds are not enough, and on a woman with lupus who hiked the Appalachian Trail. 

The Best Ways to Navigate the National Parks with a Disability

Run Through:

For the disabled community, accessibility can be a barrier to experiencing the benefits of nature that able-bodied folks take for granted. This guide from Outside recommends the U.S. National Parks that are the best equipped for those with disabilities. Acadia National Park has free, daily shuttles that are wheelchair accessible and trails topped with wide boardwalks. The article says that you can borrow a sand wheelchair in Great Sand Dunes National Park and request a raft with a ramp in the Grand Canyon through companies like Arizona Raft Company. In Glacier National Park there are short trails with stable soil, and if you’re visiting Yellowstone, there are accessible fishing spots and roads leading to the major attractions.

On Review:

  As the next article will detail, this piece fails to acknowledge those with disabilities that are not visible.

The article also focuses heavily on wheelchair users and does not account for other visible disabilities.

This article ignores the ableism that other visitors or staff in these parks may use. Feeling comfortable outside is just as important as accessibility.

Beyond Accessible Campgrounds 

Run Through:

Megan O’Dea writes for the Dyrt, an app & website that reviews campgrounds, about the improvements that still need to be made in order to make public outdoor spaces fully accessible. There is only one completely accessible, ADA approved campground in the U.S. She discusses the needs of those with chronic and invisible conditions in an outdoor experience (hiking, camping, etc.) “Someone who doesn’t use assistive devices like wheelchairs, rollators, or canes might nonetheless have limits to how far he or she can walk.” She recommends gear, such as tents with tall doors and adaptive kayaks that can make a disabled person’s experience better. Finally, she links to adventure writers and bloggers who have disabilities, like Kris Grenier of Wanderstruck Studio and The Sweet Adventurer.

On Review:

Megan O’Dea covers a lot of important bases. She gives political context and takes those with invisible disabilities into account. 

In the gear section, it would have been helpful if she had linked to a few specific products.

☆ The fact that O’Dea acknowledges that she is not an expert on the subject and points to disabled writers and bloggers is crucial.

The Woman with Paralysis who Hiked the Appalachian Trail

Run Through:

In late 2016, at 1 a.m., Stacey Kozel summited Mt. Katahdin in Maine, the very end of the Appalachian Trail. ESPN interviewed her about her experience. Kozel was diagnosed as quadriplegic in 2014 due to a disease called Lupus. In order to hike the 2,189.1 mile Appalachian Trail, she had an exoskeleton built to support her legs and used supportive walking sticks for her arms. She faced multiple bears, but it was the ableism from rangers who told her to turn back that discouraged her most. Kozel is the first person with quadriplegia to complete the A.T. “The stress on her upper body means she expends roughly twice as much energy as an able-bodied person in covering the same distance, says Joey Pollak.”  

On Review:

As an able bodied person I can not speak from experience, but I often hear from people with disabilities that the idea of being inspiring simply for doing something with a disability (that others do often) is degrading. This article might perpetuate that.

☆  It is important to note that the Appalachian Trail site has little to no information about accessibility.

As much as this is an inspiring story, it does not address the ableism that underlies the issues that Kozel (and many others) have faced on the trail.

Additional Resources:

AD: Outdoor Voices is a sustainable athletic clothing company with the goal of getting everyone outside #doingthings


Thank you for reading! See you on the trails!