Late in 2016, Helen was selected as a NSW Churchill Fellow. Her fellowship was awarded to connect with groups in Canada, USA and Europe and share the progress we’ve made so far under the Naturally Accessible framework. The aim of the fellowship is to share our work and bring back new ideas to further improve access to natural places in Australia.
Helen’s 8-week travel over July-Aug 17 included meetings with land managers and practitioners, as well as camping and getting out onto some interesting tracks and trails. Helen has also kept a track of some of the specific campsites and trails that she tackled in her manual wheelchair via her blog – we hope this helps others plan some interesting trips overseas too.
Highlights from Canada included camping out with CRIS adaptive adventures, a non-profit outdoor adventure guiding organisation for people with disability.
I was also thrilled to hang out with people at Alberta Parks. Don Den Hoed Curruthers’s masters/phd theses on inclusion practices in Parks have been part of my reading list since starting onto the Naturally Accessible project, and Alberta parks certainly has a big name in this space.
In the USA, I visited San Francisco and met with staff from the Golden Gate National Recreation Centre and checked out some of the accessible tracks in the area.
I was really excited to spent time with Bonnie Lewkowicz, one of the major players in pushing for improved access around San Francisco. Bonnie authored the 2006 edition of ‘A Wheelchair Rider’s Guide: San Francisco Bay and the Nearby Coast’, and is the principal creator of Wheeling Cals Coast.
Another blogger in San Francisco that I was keen to meet was Ashley Lyn Olson. Ashley’s WheelchairTraveling website was one of the first that I came across when researching accessible outdoor experiences in the USA, so I was super excited to meet her and get her thoughts on our work and how it fits in with her website.
Alvaro Silberstein was an absolute pleasure to connect with. Truely exciting project he’s getting started via WheelTheWorld. At the end of 2016 he brought together a team of people to fundraise and trek the ‘W’ section of the Torres del Paine in Patagonia.
Upon completion of the track, he left behind the all-terrain wheelchair he used to tackle the track. The hope is that his trip, being well documented, will inspire others to do the track too. With the equipment there and ready to go, he hopes this makes it easier for others to do the track too.
Beneficial Designs was an absolute gem to discover, so much so, that I detoured from San Francisco to their office in Nevada.
My next stop in the USA was the East coast, NY state.
What a privilege to drop by the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDEAS) at the University of Buffalo, and meet Edward Steinfeld. Edward is a leader in the fields of accessible and universal design and his publications frequently referenced.
The IDEAS lab is an incredible mix of people with different professional and academic backgrounds. Together, they pull together new and innovative strategies to improving access by thinking outside the box.
I was welcomed incredibly warmly into the lab and taken through a wonderful collection of presentations and discussions about current and future work. Fantastic people working in this space and I am excited to follow their research progress.
Unfortunately, I missed catching up with Chris Veitch from Visit England, so we caught up on Skype instead. It was fantastic to hear how information provision has improved access to many tourism experiences in the UK.
After London, I headed north into the Yorkshire Dales, where I caught up with Experience Community – a fantastic initiative that brings together like-minded people to explore the countryside by video descriptions of tracks as well as guided walks.
I have always had a soft spot for Finland, and absolutely loved spending time there with the Metsähallitus staff. Extra special thanks to Saša Dolinšek for coodinating my stay and introducing me to some truely spectacular places in Finland!
GERMANY & SWITZERLAND
My final destination was the Europen Alps, where it was a lot of fun to use trains and cable cars to access the mountain tops.
Switzerland Tourism are doing a fantastic job working towards more inclusive experiences in the alps.