Going for a walk in the woods or a bicycle ride in the countryside — reconnecting with the natural world — is a pleasure many of us take for granted.
Not Dot Nary, a research associate at Kansas University’s Research and Training Center on Independent Living, who has spent much of her life using a wheelchair.
Like many people who have mobility-related disabilities, Nary relishes any time she can spend outside, which she says is essential to everyone’s well-being.
“Individuals with mobility limitations want to stroll through the heart of the forest, not on a sidewalk along the edge of the wood; they want to experience the beach, not view it from far off, or see wildflowers on a prairie, rather than in a book,” Nary said. “With the passage of the ADA, advancements in technology, and organizations such as the National Center on Accessibility and the National Center on Physical Activity and Disability, outdoor recreation as a fitness alternative is becoming more accessible.”
In many areas, though, natural settings still aren’t accessible to people with disabilities because creating a trail while maintaining an area’s natural integrity can be a challenge.
That’s why she has so enjoyed local places like the Baker Wetlands boardwalk, where there are widened areas right in the heart of the natural area to watch wildlife that easily accommodate wheelchairs.
“The wetlands are just an amazing place of meditation, contemplation and peace. You can escape the hectic pace and noise of the city and revitalize yourself.”
Not only does the outdoors provide solace and reconnection, but also an essential place to exercise. Nary says a lot more people than we realize have difficulty accessing outdoor exercise. The variety of people include older people, returning vets with disabilities or people with chronic illnesses like diabetes.
“It isn’t just one segment of society,” says Nary, “but a large group of people who live with some sort of mobility disability. As a society, we’re getting better at treating people’s conditions, but we’re not as good at helping them deal with some sort of disability.”
In addition to the wetlands, Nary says she’s found great local outdoor opportunities to get moving.
The Rotary Arboretum has nice flat trails with excellent visibility. Also, at Lone Star Lake, near one of the boat ramps, there is an accessible parking place and dock, where she and her husband can easily unload their kayaks. The new Burroughs Creek Trail and South Lawrence Trafficway hike and bike trail near Clinton Lake and the paved trail at Prairie Park Nature Center are other good places.
Though some opportunities already exist, Nary thinks a little creativity can open up many more options.
For example, in some cities, she says, people can rent or borrow equipment like hand cycles. People with disabilities often don’t get to experiment with new activities like bicycling because they need specialized equipment that is really expensive.
“As a community, we really need to look at this population because it’s also one that typically uses lots of health care services. Keeping everyone moving is in a community’s best interest. We don’t need to be asking whether people can be active but how we can help them be active.”