4 Ways to Create Welcoming Spaces for Disabled Outdoor Users

Adrianne Haslet

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If you’ve never tried to head outside with a physical challenge or injury, you probably have breezed by how doing so looks for those who do.

Think about that as a “privilege.” Not having to consider how to go outside with a disability is a privilege, as is not needing to think about the challenges a disability brings. In other words, outdoor users who do have a disability don’t have the privilege of ignoring this stuff. It’s their life.

Outdoor challenges impact every type of disability you can imagine. When adaptive runner Adrianne Haslet joined us on the Humans Outside podcast in Season 1, she specifically addressed the challenges people like her who use a prosthetic face when they hit the trail.

Adrianne is a survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing where her left leg was taken from her through an act of terrorism. A professional ballroom dancer, since the bombing Adrianne has become a competitive runner, successfully lobbying the Boston Athletic Association to add an amputee division to that race.

When we spoke with Adrianne in early 2020, the 2020 Boston Marathon was still scheduled as a live race in mid-April, and Adrianne had worked tirelessly with the goal of being that division’s first-ever female winner.

Listen to the episode on iTunes, Google Podcasts or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

But Adrianne isn’t just a runner. She’s also an avid outdoor user and advocate for amputee and disabled persons access and support. During her episode she shared some really important tips for ways non-disabled people can help make the outdoors more accessible to disabled users.

Here’s what she said.

4 Ways to Create Welcoming Spaces for Disabled Outdoor Users

1. Park somewhere inconvenient. For non-disabled users, picking where to park is more about convenience than anything else. Will walking a little bit further be problematic? Probably not. But for a disabled user like an amputee, every step can be hard. Leave the convenient spots, even those not labeled as “handicap,” for those who might need them, she said.

“You know, they don’t have a lot of accessibility parking spots at trailheads,” she said. “If you have two legs, park further away, let somebody else have that spot who needs it, even if it’s not an accessibility spot.”

2. Clear the trail. Non-disabled hikers might not even notice a branch on a trail. But for a disabled user a clear trail might be the difference between hiking and staying home. Take a second to remove roadblocks that you might otherwise just step over, and volunteer with groups who work to make trails easier to use.

“I think one thing that people can really do when you’re out on a trail … and you see something like, obviously trash, we’re all good about picking up trash on trails. I think anyone who’s a hiker knows you should do that. But if you see branches just lying out in the center, and it’s not going to serve anyone by staying there, try and move it,” she said. “I think any sort of clearing the trails projects, like REI has some really good clearing trails projects, I think Patagonia does as well. And I think anytime anybody can volunteer with those, it helps accessibility, for sure.”

3. Be welcoming. Don’t make it weird, but when you see someone on the trail — anyone on the trail — say “hi.” That goes for disabled people, non-disabled people and humans in general.

“I think … really making sure that you’re parking somewhere else or clearing that trail for someone else or or just saying “hi” on the trail and making everyone feel welcome. It just goes such a long way,” she said. “It really does.”

4. Use the non-handicap bathroom stall if you can. Like not having to think about accessibility issues, not needing the handicap stall in a public restroom is a privilege — so leave the handicap one for someone who does need it, she said.

“It’s interesting what you notice after becoming an amputee — you know, people that use the accessible restroom when there’s nobody else in it. Those kinds of things,” she said. “Even if nobody else is in it, it still makes you feel like you still have to wait for someone who feels privileged that they can use it. It’s a different mindset.”

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