Sunday, August 30, 2009

Accessing nature

A number of years ago,I was fortunate enough to be able to go with the Ski for Light organization on their summer trip. With assistance, I was able to tandem kayak, enjoy swimming and go on hikes. I'm very grateful for the volunteers who made this possible because, without their help, most of the activities wouldn't have been possible.

Every summer I'd like to participate in these things, but it isn't possible. There aren't enough volunteer organizations around for that to happen and, as a single woman with a disability, those in my life who are willing neither have the time nor energy to help me do things like kayak.

So it was with mixed feelings that I read an article this morning which seems to say that those who advocate for access to the wilderness through "motorized means" are being, well, selfish. The truth is that the only way I get a taste of nature is through my own means, which is my power chair. And, yes, I drive as close as I can to the site if access is an issue because often that's the only way to see things. If it weren't for the paved nature trails around where I live, I wouldn't be able to enjoy the parks around here, for example. As a person with quadriplegia, I do rely on man-made and motorized access to wilderness areas.

Although the author is well meaning by extolling her mother's virtues and talking about her experiences with volunteer organizations and within her own family, I find it rare that friends with disabilities can afford to pay helpers or have available family members to help them access nature and even more rare that they've found a volunteer organization to work with them to do it. The author seems to unnecessarily label people with disabilities as "selfish" for wanting to be able to enjoy the wilderness independently when, quite frankly, that's often the only option for so many.

May I suggest that a better approach for the author would be to engage in dialogue with members of the disability community who disagree with her view, to find out why their needs may differ before assigning labels. Although the people with disabilities she knows have certain views, that doesn't necessarily mean that those who disagree lack humility, as she seems to say. I'd also be curious to see where she wishes to draw these lines in the wilderness where man made access shouldn't be provided. How would she and others who share her views suggest handling a situation where a couple who are both in wheelchairs would like to travel independently by themselves, an often ignored reality?

I'm always reluctant to speak for everyone on these issues, so I'd be interested in hearing what readers have to say about this.


Greg said...

I think you hit the nail on the head. If I can't get there in my power chair, it's not going to happen.

Gaina said...

When I was reading that piece I was having that depressing thought of 'If I had to explain this to you, you wouldn't understand the answer anyway'.

I think areas of 'Special Scientific Interest' where nobody is allowed to go should remain equally restricted to anyone, but I think in 99% of cases there's a balance between access and conservation that can be struck.

Has anyone thought that instead of saying 'you can't do A. B, C because if your chair', they should be turning this over to the people who can invent an alternative mode of transport so that people who rely on power chairs CAN get into these areas with minimal impact in the environment?

In the Costa Rican rainforest there's a place where disabled people can experience the canopies on a 'zip wire'. Ironic that what we would consider an 'under developed' country is amazingly enlightened when it comes to finding was to give disabled people an experience that the able bodied take for granted.

Why is it always US that get the 'tough luck' attitude that able bodied people wouldn't stand for?

Wheelie Catholic said...

Greg and Gaina-
thanks very much for your comments and POV's.

I found a link to the zip wire which I'll add here if anyone would like to take a look at it:

Gaina said...

Oh my, that looks like the most fun ever! haha

Full Tilt said...

Hi Wheelie,

A friend in Florida goes on wilderness vacations with an organization called Wilderness Inquiry, based in Minnesota, the purpose is to provide nature travel to persons with disabilities.

Wheelie Catholic said...

FT- Thanks, that's good to know about.