Traditionally, wheelchair accessible bushwalks have been graded using a binary system, where people with disability are told that a walk is either suitable for them or not. But clearly, disability is not binary (on or off) where something as simple as the person’s wheelchair type can dramatically change which bushwalks they can do.
The outcome of this binary approach is that a typical accessible walk is very short, and fail to give the visitor a significant connection or immersion in nature. Yet there’s overwhelming evidence that spending extended periods of time outdoors and bushwalking has enormous health and wellbeing benefits.
Our research has shown that access for many people with disability can be dramatically improved by simply providing the right information, in the right way.
A new approach to accessible bushwalking is needed. Accessible experiences in natural areas can be interesting, exciting and adventurous as well as inclusive. There are many tracks in NSW that are possible for people with limited mobility to tackle, but it’s the lack of information about track conditions that prevent people from getting out there.
We can help more people get outdoors and go bushwalking by providing them with information so they can make a decision if a walk is suitable for them. It’s about moving away from a system where people are told they are either welcome, or not, based on the use of a wheelchair symbol. It’s about returning a sense of exploration, adventure and choice to how visitors interact with, and spend time in nature. We wanted to do this in a way that is not just limited to wheelchair users, but rather, also takes into account the similar needs of other types of mobility restrictions including older people, young families with prams, people with heart/lung conditions and so on.
The first phase of this project – Naturally Accessible 1.0 – kicked off in July 2016 and was about learning about what sort of information is useful to people with mobility restrictions and figuring out how to convey track information. Naturally Accessible 2.0 is about developing online material to skill up people with mobility restrictions with basic bushcraft skills needed to go bushwalking as well as implementing the world’s first overnight walk.
Currently, this project focuses on bushwalking, but we have also shown that it works on improving access to hard-roofed accommodation in National Parks, and believe that the same concept could apply to improving access to other environments and experiences.
So far, we’ve had a bunch of fun and had the opportunity to meet some really amazing people working in this space. Check out these posts below for more details.