This Group is Helping Make the Outdoors More Accessible for the Disabled

If you had to make a list of all the ways your life would change if the unthinkable happened and you ended up disabled in some way, it’s very likely that you would never think to add anything regarding the number of hours a day you would spend inside. For me it was a slowly noticed surprise in the years following a major auto accident that in 2010, left me confined to a wheelchair.

There is something uniquely enriching about being outdoors. Most people experience a form of missing the outdoors during the winter months when we prefer the warmth of the indoors. By spring, people are excited to plan for spending the day outdoors.

Unfortunately, being disabled makes that possibility less likely simply due to ease of access.

From making short trips to work, the grocery store, or going on walks or a weekend camping, outdoor activities become vastly more difficult when attempting to traverse terrain that is uneven. The Americans with Disabilities Act has done a lot for making the indoors accessible, but no legislation could ever do the same for the outdoors without being onerous and expensive as well as largely unnecessary.

Outdoor group activities also have a distinctive social component that can often be overlooked if people are confined indoors. Shared experiences and accomplishments, like hiking to the top of a mountain or biking a 20-mile route, are a fast way to create bonds and enrich friendships between people.

Another aspect never contemplated before, was how expensive specialized recreational equipment is. It stands to reason that when it comes to disabilities, most have unique abilities and challenges when it comes to participating in activities such as cycling, skiing, or rock climbing. And while there is equipment available to help with mobility outdoors, the cost is often prohibitive, even with assistance from health care or disability coverage.

That’s where organizations like the Seattle-based Outdoors for All Foundation come in. Their goal is to fit the needs of people with all kinds of disabilities and help them be able to participate in outdoor recreation.

Since 1978, Outdoors for All has provided equipment fittings, rentals, and ability assessments for children and adults with disabilities. From an inaugural annual ski trip with 15 children, the Outdoors for All foundation currently helps more than 2,300 adults and children enjoy the outdoors every year with the help of 700 volunteers.

Outdoors for All operates year-round and schedules trips not only for summer activities like canoeing and hiking, but also includes winter trips for skiing and snowshoeing. Although ability assessments are required before a participant is signed up for a particular trip, Outdoors for All works with individuals with any disability and helps in providing assistive equipment so everyone can participate.

To help keep costs manageable for participants, the foundation has set fees for each activity, and many who apply receive scholarships through the foundation based on their individual ability to pay.

Along with organizing day trips, Outdoors for All hosts three day camps in the Seattle area when schools are on break during all seasons and including holidays. These camps are open to children with and without disabilities, and range in age from 5 to 21. The day camps introduce the kids to an array of outdoor activities, from rock climbing and swimming to hiking and biking. Through these enrichment activities, the Outdoors for All day camps can also serve as a form of physical therapy, as the skills the kids learn focus on fine and gross motor skills.

Whether an adult or child with disabilities, the joy and life enrichment that being able to participate in outdoor activities brings is priceless. Outdoors for All has opened up opportunities for people with disabilities to have fun and challenge themselves with activities that would be otherwise inaccessible or financially feasible without the foundations help.

Andrea Ruth is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow her on Twitter @AndreaNRuth.