Some people think that because I have written a number of trail guides I must be a super hiker. In fact, there was a time in my life when walking across a room was an insurmountable challenge. While healing has come after disastrous brain surgery that saved my life yet left my right side paralyzed, I still require support to navigate uneven surfaces: bumpy sidewalks, crowded airport terminals, or rooty or rocky outdoor spaces.
One of the most important factors that dictate whether I can safely manage an outing is asking about an area ahead of time. To safely navigate an outdoor trail, I need to know about trail surface Easy Walks, that is, not too many roots or rocks, relatively level, with something of interest along the way.
You may think that anyone who has trouble walking won't make the effort to travel. Not true! For those of us who need support to get around, it is challenging, but not impossible. Often the determining factor is lack of pertinent information. This is where we travel writers come in. Often those of us who are disabled have limited energy. We need to plan ahead and try to be sure that where we are going is workable for us. When I read or otherwise hear about a travel location that interests me, I need to hear details that address my specific challenges.
After watching a late night TV program about Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland, Canada, my husband insisted that we needed to go see this amazing park. We could take a boat ride to explore the cliffs and waterfalls of the Great Western Brook! However, once we got there, we learned that to reach the boat dock we would have to walk two miles to reach the boat, so in total, a four mile round trip. The map looked like we would be able to drive to the dock. It was only after we arrived and got the chance to ask more questions that we discovered what felt like an insurmountable barrier.
I can walk up to about two miles before my foot wears out. At that time the park service had no options available to provide handicapped access. I was resigned to passing on the boat trip, but I married to a man who is willing to move mountains for me when needed. He found a way to help me reach the boat and not be in agony. Would we have made the trip if we had known how difficult it would be? That’s hard to say, but we might have made different choices if we had known more about what was involved.
The disability community is not monolithic. Our needs vary considerably. You can't cover every single aspect of a destination in one blog post or magazine article. However, it might help if you try to visualize how a place might be accessed, not just by those with mobility impairments, but also elders, those recently injured, or families who need to transport their young children in strollers.
With these travelers in mind, let’s talk about how you can better provide value for those us who may have the heart of a world traveler, but the body of a day tripper (like me). Consider these factors:
1. How difficult is it to get there?
2. Are steps involved for access?
3. Are there places to rest along the way?
4. Are there stair railings?
5. Can you provide information about sidewalks? trail surfaces?
6. Are there public transportation options that include access for those with mobility challenges?
7. When you say an area has easy access, what does that mean?
8. Can you describe walking surfaces? Are they cracked (sidewalks) or smooth, paved or packed dirt?
9. Tell us about outdoor paths/trails. Do they have lots of roots or rocks? How hilly is it?
10. Include some rule of thumb about weather.
Some of us (like me) cannot sweat, so high temperatures are a barrier. Yes, we can check weather information, but it’s helpful if you are able to include some advice about weather variables. Can you expect to find summer temps in the 100s (F)? Winter trips where temps are below zero (F)? When is the rainy season? Hurricane season?
One snowy winter day I went to a store that had steps as well as a handicapped ramp. The steps were shoveled; the ramp was not. When I asked why they had neglected to shovel the ramp, the answer was, “They don’t go out in this weather….” I have never forgotten that. Do not assume. Never underestimate a person’s willingness to travel. A trip around the world or around the block—there may be barriers to either kind of travel, but remember that you have valuable information that can make the difference to someone. Happy trails!
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a freelance writer/ editor who loves the outdoors, uses hiking poles to help keep her balance on the trail, and has completed four books in the Easy Walks guide book series. Learn more about Marjorie at marjorieturner.com