Thursday, May 18, 2023

Meet Abby and Discover Easterseals Massschusetts

      Big Thanks to Patrick Remy from Easterseals MA for this joyful story of success that highlights the personal transformation and benefits possible in adaptive recreation programs. Easterseals MA is offering their adaptive pool program this summer at DCR's Bennett Field Pool in Worcester. If you live in the Worcester area, don't miss out! Contact Patrick at to sign up!

Abby's confidence grew so well she assists the swim program!

       Abby and her mother Michelle have shared an incredible bond since before she was born. While in utero Abby was diagnosed with Tuberous-sclerosis which has symptoms that include seizures, intellectual disability, developmental delay, and lung and kidney disease. Michelle has been Abby’s biggest advocate since the moment she learned of her diagnosis and Abby is quite attached to her mother.

             Abby began attending Easterseals MA’s Accessible Martial Arts, which is a program designed for people of all ages with and without disabilities who want to learn and practice self-defense, stretching, exercise, and relaxation techniques. Abby has always had an affinity for Martial Arts, but Accessible Martial Arts was the first time she was able to practice with an instructor.      

Abby stands tall in class.

      At first Abby needed her mom by her side throughout the program, but as she became more comfortable, Michelle was able to leave the room and Abby excelled. Abby immediately felt at ease with our instructors Paul Medeiros, Easterseals MA President & CEO; and Patrick Remy, Easterseals MA Program Services Specialist. She has even been asked to help instruct the other students on occasion.

         “I love practicing the moves but learning meditation has really helped me cope with some of the stress I go through,” said Abby, “It really helps me.”     

        In fact, Abby loved her experience at Accessible Martial Arts so much she also began participating in other Easterseals MA programs: The DCR funded Adapted Swim program and Youth Leadership Network. All of which have helped her socialize with her peers. Michelle credits the individualized attention Abby receives at Easterseals MA for many of her recent successes. 

        For example, Abby had been taking swimming lessons since she was young and a goal for her had been to work on breathing properly while swimming, something she had been struggling with. Abby was able to accomplish this goal within two weeks of participating in Easterseals MA’s Adapted Swim program.      

Abby swims with good form at the pool program.

 Abby was not only incredibly proud to now be swimming with her head in the water like other swimmers she had long admired, but as someone who suffers from seizures, it also made her feel safer.

     “The self-confidence Abby has gained through Easterseals MA programs alone has changed our 5- year plan entirely,” said Michelle. “We cannot wait for our next Individualized Education Program meeting; the school is going to be blown away.”

        To find out more about summer adaptive recreation opportunities, consider attending DCR's Adaptive Recreation Fair at Artesani Park in Brighton, MA on June 10. Easterseals MA will have a booth at the fair, along with 25 more exhibitors and many exciting activities and opportunities to kick of summer.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Accessible Birding in Winter

Thank you Meghadeepa, for sharing your personal experience and recommended strategies for birding with disabilities in winter!  This article is reprinted with permission from Bird Observer, February 2023, Volume 53, Number 1, 

Birding from the accessible gazebo at Longmeadow Flats.
Photograph by Steph Almasi.

Many folks are content limiting their birding to the abundance of spring. Seems like a smart decision. I live in small-town and rural Massachusetts, where the climate can create dangerous outdoor conditions for the six months that we split between Thanksgiving blizzards, actual winter, and faux spring. Tall snowbanks block crosswalks and views. Parking lots that are plowed on a somewhat predictable schedule are unpredictably left unsalted. Black ice surreptitiously creeps up on you when you least expect it. And even on the most popular “accessible” birding trails and bike paths, you must fend for yourself once frozen precipitation hits the ground. When you get out the door, the subzero temperatures and wind chill will surely turn your limbs into ice. And these are just the barriers that nondisabled birders experience in northern winters.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Parks with Canals Offer Best Access to First Day Hikes

Winter view along the towpath shows a frozen canal.
        A visit to Riverbend Farm in Uxbridge offers a unique opportunity to walk along a historical canal. I stopped there this week to check out accessibility of both the "towpath" and the exhibits at the Visitor Center. This location is on DCR's offerings of First Day Hikes on January 1, 2023. 

        First Day Hikes are especially worth mentioning since this national phenomenon first started at a DCR State Park in 1992. There are seven Massachusetts State Parks offering a First Day Hike for 2023. Of the seven, two parks have reasonably accessible trails, both along canals. The Great Falls Discovery Center, adjacent to the Canalside Rail Trail in Turners Falls near Greenfield, is offering a 3-mile excursion along the paved trail and Riverbend Farm has a 1.5-mile trek planned on its towpath. Both outings offer hot chocolate back at the Visitor Center afterwards. Hiking the full distance is probably not a hard and fast requirement to achieve the reward! 

Monday, December 19, 2022

Refresh Yourself with Adaptive Winter Recreation in Worcester and Beyond

A skater using with a walker.
        This week I stopped by Buffone Rink in Worcester to meet with the supervisor about our upcoming adaptive skating programs. While there, I treated myself to skating on the ice and found myself wonderfully refreshed afterwards. There is something magical about gliding in cool air - it clears the mind and refreshes the lungs - two things most of us could use during a season of so much time spent indoors.

        DCR's Universal Access Program is finally returning to Worcester since the pandemic started, to bring some winter fun opportunities to the area. We will be at Buffone Rink at 284 Lake Ave. on Mondays January 16, February 27 and March 20 from 1-3:30pm. Advance registration is required. Find more information at the end of this post.    

Monday, November 28, 2022

Mt. Tom Trailhead North Park Offers New Accessible Hiking Trail


The parking lot with Mt. Nonotuck distant.
         I broke out of office confinement on a sunny,  late November weekday afternoon to check out the new accessible trail at Mt. Tom Trailhead North Park in Easthampton. It was the right choice! Anticipating a relatively flat trail, I was surprised to find an accessible trail on a low mountain slope that climbs to a view.

        A 9-car parking lot at approximately 108 East Street is located at the foot of the western slope of Mt. Nonotuck. When I arrived, the lot was almost full, and once I parked it was full for cars not requiring one of the two accessible parking spaces. These spots were vacant. As I was getting ready to walk the recently constructed trail, a couple of cars came looking to park and left. Be aware that this Trailhead Park is a trailhead indeed, leading on to other hiking trails up the mountain. It's already a popular spot for hikers.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Unpaved Trails For All - More Equity Needed to Nature's Health Benefits

Unpaved trail in Keene, NH offers river views.
        I recently had the pleasure of meeting Meg Bandarra, of Unpaved Trails For All, an organization she started to promote accessible trails with less constructed elements to help people connect better with nature. Trails designed for mobility devices can often feel like a track laid down in nature, especially when entirely paved or designed with wood edges and boardwalks. We don't have enough accessible trails - whether paved or unpaved - and I too have a deep appreciation for trails that feel as natural as possible. As a person with a disability whose life was changed when she discovered unpaved trails designed for mobility devices, Meg is a perfect spokesperson for this cause.

Monday, October 17, 2022

How to Build Independence as a Brain-injured Hiker

Cindi turns back on the trail to talk.
        "I went to one of the programs and my whole world changed. It saved me. All of a sudden, I got my life back. I found out that I can. I found out that I can ride a bike. I found out that I can go kayaking again. I can have a life!" - Cindi Gazda, 2015

        Cindi Gazda has been participating in DCR's Universal Access Programs for many years. I first remember meeting her outside a skating rink in Holyoke during a program around ten years ago. She hadn't come to skate but to find out about other recreation possibilities. After that, we saw her in nearly every activity year-round throughout the following years, with hiking usually first choice. 

        Her acquired brain injury came from an unfortunate mosquito bite, infecting her with eastern equine encephalitis. Subsequent slips and falls have kept her challenged with memory, vestibular, and knee issues. Prior to her brain injury, she had been an avid hiker, kayaker, and spontaneous RV camper with four kids. Like many people, she "knew nothing about disabled sports" until after her injury. 

Friday, September 9, 2022

Help Accessible Trail Signage Design by Visiting Walden Pond

Trailhead signage provides an overview.
    Fall is a great time to visit the parks - it's cooler and the parks are less crowded! At Walden Pond State Reservation in Concord, MA, the Thoreau House Site Trail is universally accessible for all visitors. It's a great outing for families and people of all ages with changing StoryWalks. An installation of temporary trail signage is up and needing your comments to help the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) develop good signage that works for everyone. Add a trip to Walden Pond to your places-to-go list this fall!

    If you would like to use a durable wheelchair on the trail, call in advance or stop by the Visitor Center to request the "trails chair". This accommodation offered by the park can be used independently, or supported by a family member, school staff person, or other caregiver pushing. See photo of the trails chair at Walden Pond at the end of this post.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Accessible Birding - and Anti-Racist Too!

A closed road side is an accessible birding
hotspot at a water treatment plant.
    Spring is emerging and birds are returning! Some of my favorite places to birdwatch are in Massachusetts State Parks. Accessible birding locations I enjoy include Belle Isle Marsh Reservation in E. Boston, the Norwottuck Rail Trail in Amherst/Hadley, and the Canalside Rail Trail in Turners Falls. In addition, I highly recommend Plum Island in Newburyport, Constitution Beach in E. Boston in winter, several ponds accessible via carriage roads in Borderland State Park, and Crosby Landing in Nickerson State Park on Cape Cod.

    As part of my job with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) Universal Access Program, I have fond memories of birding with people with disabilities back in 2005-2010 and developing techniques to help more people use optics. Some of these techniques included the use of a monopod with binoculars and starting new birders in places with easy-to-view birds like waterfowl and herons. With changes in technology since then, I'm sure more strategies have emerged for providing the best experience possible for birders with disabilities.

Monday, January 31, 2022

Accessible Trails and Parks Along the Neponset River in Dorchester

Winter snowless view of trail with distant pavilion.
I have been visiting Pope John Paul II Park Reservation on the Neponset River in Dorchester over the past few months. The park offers open space with big sky, views of the water, and an urban exploration of nature. A paved series of loop trails allows for wheelchair access and fitness opportunities. Restoration and protection of the urban wild along the river gives nature lovers a chance to enjoy birds, especially in winter.

        Pope John Paul II, or PJP II, was once a landfill, and this is evident in the rolling terrain with a prominent hill. This is a specific park linked along the riverway to several other parks via 10 foot wide paved walkways and the Lower Neponset River Trail. From PJP II, located on Hallet Street in Dorchester, it is possible to achieve a summit experience, with 2 accessible shelters atop the grassy hill with picnic tables. A paved trail with very modest grades (<5%) make this hilltop very accessible. I hear its a great place to fly kites.