Thursday, December 1, 2016

Explore Adaptive Mountain Biking at "Knobby Tire" Event

Swapping wheels to knobby tires is just the beginning of improving access to rugged trails. Then come the adaptive models that accommodate people with various disabilities. These designs are ever evolving and the Knobby Tire Ride and Roll is a unique event where you can try out a variety of adaptive mountain bikes and get out on the trail! Thanks to DCR's Universal Access Outreach Specialist Laila Soleimani for checking out the following event in Carlisle, Massachusetts and writing this post!
I had the wonderful opportunity to attend an event called the ‘Knobby Tire Ride and Roll’ at Great Brook Farm State Park this fall. Knobby Tire is a fundraiser for Empower SCI, a non-profit organization, co-founded in 2012 by Carrie Callahan, providing therapeutic services to individuals with spinal cord injuries. The fundraiser is an all-ability trail ride event with all proceeds raised going directly towards Empower SCIs residential rehabilitation program.
This program offers an annual two week residential rehab program, now in its fifth year, bringing together professionals in July to help participants with spinal cord injuries learn the tools they need to live more independently. I was amazed to learn that since Empower was established, not a single staff member has been paid and that all of these professionals volunteer their time!
Zoe Norcross from Spaulding Adaptive Sports Center kicked things off by giving the group an equipment fitting demonstration. The raffle prize table was filled with awesome items donated by  Cannondale, Eastern Mountain Sports, The Roots Channel and other businesses.  Food was served by volunteers! Bike-On brought adaptive bikes for participants to use, Northeast Passage brought adaptive hiking chairs, and Cycle Loft was on deck to provide mechanical support. Adaptive equipment demonstrations took place throughout the day as more and more riders showed up. The Ice Trike Full Fat cycle Bike-On brought was popular amongst fundraiser attendees. This recumbent cycle has fat tires adapted for riding over rugged trails and whatever elements one might encounter.
The Knobby Tire fundraiser was inspired by Ryan DeRoche. I first had the pleasure of meeting Ryan at one of our adaptive skating programs in Brockton last winter. Ryan told me that he fell in love with mountain biking at very young age, where his passion for the sport eventually led him to mountain bike racing. After sustaining a spinal cord injury in 2011, he was hesitant to get back on the trails. His friends at Empower took him out at Middlesex Fells Reservation in his manual chair in 2014 for the first time since his accident. 
They tied ropes to the front of it and pulled me through the orange trail. It was so liberating and healing to be in the woods. It was always a very comforting place for me. That was the first time I felt that comfort since my injury in 2011,” said DeRoche.
This amazing experience helped Ryan realize that it was still possible to participate in the sport he loved so much. “That day I went home to look for a mountain bike that would allow me to get out on the trails without the need of ropes and 4 other people.” It is Ryan’s hope that others with spinal cord injuries can have similar experiences and he continues to spread this message through events like the Knobby Tire fundraiser, which he said is “designed to get people back to the woods in whatever way they can.”
As the day began winding down, I felt proud to have been part of such an incredible group of people and such an awesome day. Given the great success of the ‘Knobby Tire Ride and Roll’ fundraiser, Empower plans to host the event again next September for the third consecutive year. I had a blast at this fundraiser and cannot wait for next year’s! If you’d like to get involved, please contact Carrie Callahan at

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Power of Play!

In the past week we have started our winter skating program season in East Boston and Holyoke. What a perfect stress reliever after a difficult election season!!! I've never seen so many smiles by so many people of all colors and abilities in a single skating program as I did in East Boston. Five groups and their staff came out to play on the ice, along with several individuals and families for a total of 85 participants. Once again I am reminded of the power of play to clear energy and revitalize spirits. For this reason I'm re-posting the following celebration of play from four years ago!

      With winter comes ice, something many people avoid for its potential hazards, yet in the right context, ice brings out a sense of fun and playfulness. Where an ice rink is defined, indoors or out, any sort of game or play activity is bound to be going on. Being on ice propels the body into movement to stay warm.  Testing the slickness of ice translates into sliding, spinning, gliding, chasing and smiles. Ice inspires play!

I've loved the playfulness of being on ice all my life. I grew up in a neighborhood where a baseball field was flooded every winter by the local boy scout troop. The kids, teens and adults attracted to this local patch of frozen water became an impromptu winter community where play ruled. For many years as an adult I often sought out frozen bodies of water to play games with my dogs. Now, as an adaptive recreation professional I observe and join people's delight on ice every winter in our programs. I love the way disability seems to evaporate when people with and without disabilities use ice sleds to play hockey.

Spontaneity and inventiveness abound in our adaptive skating programs. There seems to be a new game created at almost every program we facilitate. Some of the games we've generated include spinning donuts in power wheelchairs, ice sled races, hockey games with balls and pucks of all sizes and styles, flying kites while skating, lining up in ice sled trains, building foam block towers and walls to crash into, slaloms, and power chair towing of people in ice sleds in a variation of crack-the-whip. With skaters on conventional skates, using skate walkers, ice sleds and/or their own wheelchairs, and others using ice grippers over their shoes, the possibilities are still being discovered!

If you are feeling hum-drum about winter or need a therapeutic dose of fun and games, consider getting out on the ice wherever you are! If you live in Massachusetts we have two programs coming up in the next month, with more scheduled for January through March at additional locations.

December 13 - East Boston, Porrazzo Rink
December 18 - Holyoke, Fitzpatrick Rink

Call 413-545-5759 to register for these programs sponsored by DCR's Universal Access Program! The whole rink is ours to play on for two hours! Come as you are (with warm clothes, gloves and a hat) and embrace winter with a spin on the ice!

Do you play on the ice? Please share your game inventions using the comment link below!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Hiking with Waypoint Adventure near Boston

Guest Post from Waypoint Adventure - we are thrilled to have them hiking in the Blue Hills!
With the fall weather finally kicking in, Waypoint and the Department of Conservation and Recreation of Massachusetts (DCR) have started a four-part series to hike/snowshoe various sections of the Blue Hills Reservation. The DCR has sponsored these four hikes to spread the word about accessibility.
On Saturday we met at the Trailside Museum to begin our journey into the Reservation. It was a gorgeous day with little wind and peak fall color that popped against the gray sky. The weather and color wasn’t the only thing that reassured us of a great day – the attitudes and laughter that filled our group created a real special feeling from the start.
Anytime we facilitate adventures like this, we like to plant a thoughtful seed at the start. Sometimes that seed is planted through an activity, a question or a quote. We find it to be a great way to create a consistent thread of conversation, thought and feeling into the program. This program was not different – At the end of our pre-hike briefing, right before we set foot in the woods, we read a quote by Wendell Berry:
Always in the big woods when you leave familiar ground and step off into a new place there will be, along with feelings of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. It is the ancient fear of the unknown and it is your first bond with the wilderness you are going into” – Wendell Berry
If there was truly any “little nagging of dread” in any one of us prior to the hike, it was diffused quickly and every part of the day was a huge success. The perspective on what it means to be a community, working together to accomplish something big, never left the eyes and minds of this group. There was never one person succeeding on Saturday, it was all of us….and we had fun doing it!
There was a constant humming of conversation about things like – past hikes, food, recipes, politics and family traditions. On Waypoint hikes we like to create moments for people to stop and listen. On the last leg of our hike, we paused by a pond to be silent and reflect. At the end, we asked people what the predominant thought in their mind was during our silence. Responses included: love, beauty, community and zombies.
We’re so thankful for the chance to get into the Blue Hills for three more Saturdays this winter! An especially big thanks goes out to Bill Boyes (volunteer photographer) and the DCR for their support of these events!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Four Paragolfers Make Golfing in the Boston Area More Accessible

Paragolfers in use at Leo J.Martin Memorial Golf Course.
Today was a brisk fall day at the end of the golfing season but that didn't stop 10 golfers with disabilities from playing at Leo J. Martin Memorial Golf Course in Weston, Massachusetts.

Golf professional and adaptive instructor from Spaulding Adaptive Sports Center Rick Johnson was in his element coaching his Back Into The Swing program on its final outing of the season.

I found the golfers bundled up against the breeze playing in three distinct groups. Three of the golfers were using Paragolfers to play - an all terrain wheelchair that assists the user into a standing position to swing. The other golfers were making use of conventional golf carts to traverse the long course and had a variety of disabilities.

Jerry Donovan and Jeff Whelpley stand up to play.
"I've been able to play golf twice a week thanks to these machines! It's awesome! It's been a Godsend!!" exclaimed Jeff Whelpley. "This is the best thing that has happened to me since my accident!"

Jeff is a tall man who volunteered at Loon Mountain's adaptive downhill ski program for four years - "one of the best things I'd done in my life." The day of his accident he informed me, he was supposed to go golfing, but switched to motocross racing instead and ended up "wrapped around a tree". Like many adaptive golfers, he was a serious golfer prior to his accident.

The Department of Conservation and Recreation purchased four Paragolfers this year for the two golf courses managed by the state agency. This innovative vehicle has transformed the lives of those who have discovered it. Two are kept at Leo J. Martin and the other two reside at Ponkapoag Golf Course in Canton. Now golfers with spinal cord injuries or who otherwise cannot walk or stand, can play golf in the greater Boston area.

Rick Johnson applauds excellent progress.
"Two Paragolfers at each course is a gift from above," said Rick Johnson. "I'm sure this hasn't happened anywhere else. Now these guys are playing twice a week and organizing a tournament on November 8th."

One of the other guys, Steve Kuketz, achieved a hole-in-one this summer on this course using the Paragolfer. He told me today his next hole-in-one is not long off.

Steve and Jeff are the main organizers for the 2016 New England Regional Championship, an event hosted by the newly formed Massachusetts Para-Golfers Association (MPGA), The event starts at 11 am on Tuesday, November 8 and costs $25. Over 20 people are already signed up. For further information, contact 508-889-7581 or 781-217-8170. "Anyone with a disability is welcome and can play", said Steve.

For more information on the Back Into The Swing Program, contact Spaulding Adaptive Sports Center at 877-976-7272. They offer indoor instruction over the winter while dreaming of spring.

Friday, October 21, 2016

New Visitor Center at Walden Pond

Walden Pond is well known as the former haunt of famous American literary figure Henry David Thoreau. Once upon a time it was a rural area where Henry left the stresses of town life to live for 2 years, 2 months and 2 days during the mid-19th century in a simple one room cabin of his own creation. Nowadays, though one cannot fully escape the sounds of traffic in the forested area, Walden Pond State Reservation still offers beauty and tranquility to over 275,000 visitors per year, who come from all over the world for a grand mix of history, recreation, education and appreciation of Henry David Thoreau's native voice. A replica of Henry's cabin next to the parking lot offers visitors the chance to experience the space he built for under $30 in his day, with a statue of him nearby. Trails in the park can take you to the original cabin site, which is a celebrated national landmark.

A brand new visitor center is opening this fall at Walden Pond State Reservation in Concord, Massachusetts. I stopped in recently to find both the bathrooms and the Thoreau Society gift shop open in a stunningly beautiful and accessible new building. The exhibit area is still being worked on and is not open yet, but the park was well-attended by people checking out the building and walking the extensive beach created by the drought. A bald eagle was circling over the pond. Swimmers and paddlers were enjoying the sparkling water and peak autumn color. Walden Pond is a popular spot just outside of Boston that truly offers something enjoyable for everyone.

The terrain at Walden is challenging for full physical accessibility but many people with disabilities can enjoy some of  the beach and trails. The toughest spot in the main area of public use is the hill down to the swimming beach which can be walked or rolled on via a wide paved path. The beach can be accessed by car from the boat launch which has a small gravel and dirt parking area with some designated more accessible spots. Traversing the parking lot to the beach involves a gradual grade and some bumpiness over a short distance. The shoreline is hard packed for the most part and likely a relatively easy walking surface for many. The park has beach wheelchairs which require someone to push that are for use on the beach.

Park staff have also introduced a trails wheelchair this year which can be self-propelled or pushed by others. The trails at Walden are generally well worn and wide on moderate terrain with some rocks, roots and steeper grades. While some people with disabilities may find these trails manageable, others are likely to require assistance and/or adaptive equipment. For further information, contact Walden Pond park staff at 978-369-3254.

Walden Pond State Reservation is managed by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). DCR's Universal Access Program offers adaptive hiking programs at various state parks and typically comes to Walden Pond once a year. For further information on adaptive hiking programs, contact DCR's Universal Access Program at 413-545-5758. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Charles River Braille Trail

Two blocks down the street from the Perkins School for the Blind is a new Braille trail along the Charles River in Watertown, MA. The existence of the new Braille trail is an invitation for Perkins residents and students to come out and explore. While checking out the trail last month I met local walkers who verified that groups from Perkins had indeed been visiting this wonderful loop walk alongside the river.

Jerry Berrier, who is blind, works at Perkins, and consults with Massachusetts Audubon on their sensory trails, told me he thinks this is one of the best designed trails for people with visual impairments that he has experienced.

The Perkins School was one of several collaborators involved in developing the trail and assists in its maintenance. Other partners included the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), the Town of Watertown, the Watertown Community Foundation and other local organizations. The Solomon Foundation was a major contributor of funds for the project. The combined efforts of both public and private partners is often what is necessary for such a successful result.

As I walked the trail, I kept my eyes closed most of the time, trying out the guide cable, running my fingers along the cable to each post, and feeling the large wooden beads along the way that indicate elements in the vicinity. A sphere means that there is a bench opposite the trail from the cable, a cube indicates a station or feature nearby, and a cylinder marks a station or feature on the opposite side. Triangular beads tell you what the other bead shapes mean, serving as a key. Since I don't read Braille I had to open my eyes to read the interpretive signage along the way describing the nature and history of the this delightful riverside spot.

Walking with eyes closed, I found it a bit daunting to navigate the transitions where the cable ends and another type of tactile element began. It helped a lot that I already had a visual overview of the area and trail concept. Although the transitions may be easier for those used to navigating with a cane or sighted guide, one suggestion for improvement would be to provide an introduction to the trail via website and audio tour, and maybe even a tactile map on site. The quarter mile long trail is a thin oval shape, fitting in neatly between the river and Charles River Road and connecting to a longer trail on both ends. There are signage stations along the perimeter and a sensory garden in the middle of the oval, entered both on the river side and the street side.

The sensory garden makes this trail unique in all the trails for people with visual impairments that I have walked. It is a beautifully designed space with a stripe of cobblestone underfoot as a tactile guide through the experiences offered there. The garden is edged in a combination of stone walls, trees, and logs cut to establish lines of short stumps and logs cut in longer lengths set cleverly together in an almost braided effect on the ground. Within the variable interactive boundary are a few attractions that are lovely to behold with eyes as well as hands, including 2 wooden rowboats commemorating the history of boat use on the river, a xylophone or marimba bench that can be played while you sit on it, and a large boulder with a grinding space evoking the lifestyle of the first people who lived in the vicinity.

On the west end of the oval - the side closest to Watertown square - nearby there are a few picnic tables accessible off the continuing trail. It would be nice to see a navigational extension for blind trail users to these tables. They are quite a statement, conveying the flow of the river in their design. A few of the benches along the Braille Trail share similar elements and provide lots of enjoyable resting spots.

The Charles River Braille Trail is located close to the intersection of Irving Street and Charles River Road. There is plenty of free street side parking for those arriving by car. DCR has installed a signalized pedestrian crossing to make it easier for those who are walking to access the site. Be aware that there are no restrooms on site or in the immediate vicinity. Plan accordingly and the Charles River Braille Trail is well worth the visit!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Set Sail with Community Boating This Fall!

Thanks Laila Soleimani for this post on Community Boating, a sailing club for all. Community Boating has offered sailing since 1936 and is a fantastic opportunity not to miss if you live in or near Boston or are planning a visit. Whether you are new to sailing or already experienced, the Charles River is a fun place to enjoy the urban landscape.
On August 16th, I had the wonderful opportunity to observe Community Boating's adaptive sailing program, which started with help from DCR’s Universal Access Program in 2003. I had been trying to check out CBI's adaptive sailing program for the last year, so I was very excited I was finally able to get there. Community Boating Inc. is located on the Esplanade along the Charles River in Boston with fantastic views of the city skyline. Upon walking up to the boathouse, I watched individuals of all ages  - from kids to teenagers to adults - excitedly entering the facility. There was a bright blue sign with black lettering that read "Sailing Here for All". When I walked in, I was greeted by Isaac Pato, the dockmaster, and his front desk staff. Within the first few minutes of being there, I witnessed first-hand the welcoming environment CBI provides to its community members and guests.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Want to Learn to Steer a Kayak? No Vision? No Problem!

Thanks Bob Hachey for this Guest Post on learning to steer a kayak! Bob is blind and an avid participant of Waypoint Adventure, a Boston-based adaptive recreation organization.

Bob Hachey steers a tandem kayak on the Charles River
with DCR Universal Access Program staff member Andrea Lontine in front.
On a perfect July day, I embarked upon a kayaking trip with an organization called Waypoint Adventure. The boats were launched into the Charles River in my home town of Waltham. I had been on many kayak trips before and was looking forward to a relaxing time out on the water, and, perhaps a bit of power kayaking.


But this trip went far beyond my expectations. My usual trips consisted of one to two hour treks through various waterways. But something felt different right from the start on this day. Others on the trip included four persons with a variety of disabilities and a number of volunteers as well as two representatives of Waypoint Adventure. The organizers asked all of us to introduce ourselves, lead the group in a stretching exercise, and told the group what we might like to learn about kayaking on this date. I latched onto the third of these requests. All of my time spent in a two-person kayak was spent at the front of the kayak as a power paddler. The person in the back does the steering and I’d always wanted to learn how to steer a kayak. Upon mentioning this during my introduction, I was happy to hear encouragement from the trip organizers. One of them came up behind me with a paddle with a couple of unusual tactile markings which made it very easy for me to be sure that my paddle would always be in the optimal position for best results. This was something new for me as keeping the paddle in the correct position had always been a bit of a struggle. He then showed me in detail two methods for steering a kayak. At first, I said that maybe I should let my sighted volunteer steer until we got out into open water, but he assured me that I could steer the boat right from the start.

Monday, June 27, 2016

iCanBike Cambridge!

Thanks to Nina Katz-Christy for her Guest Post about her iCan Bike experience. I recently met Nina at our annual Adaptive Recreation Fair in Brighton, MA and was delighted to meet such a young person already on board with facilitating adaptive recreation in her community. The power of volunteering changes lives!

A few years ago, I decided to volunteer at Arlington’s first iCan Bike Camp. These camps are hosted all across the country through iCan Shine, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching individuals with disabilities to ride conventional two-wheel bicycles. When I signed up to volunteer, I had no idea what to expect. The first day, I was very nervous but quickly got to know the riders and other volunteers. I immediately fell in love with the program and continued volunteering for the next few years.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Importance of Adaptive Recreation Fairs

On June 4, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation hosted an annual Adaptive Recreation Fair at Artesani Park in Brighton, MA. DCR's Universal Access Program has offered this friendly fair since 2007 to promote and kickoff the summer accessible recreation season in the greater Boston area and to provide a variety of adaptive bicycles for participants to ride.

People with disabilities and their families, friends and caregivers attend the fair to participate in an array of other activities and to sign up for summer recreation opportunities. Each year the fair has provided lots of delight and inspiration for those who attend. As it gradually builds a presence in the community over the years, I am reveling in the many special benefits of such an annual event.

People who attend discover whole new worlds of possibility opening up before them. First, there is an exceptionally welcoming crowd of people staffing 20 booths representing  organizations offering cool accessible things to do from amputee surfing to therapeutic horseback riding. Second, the advancements in adaptive recreation equipment continue to expand levels of ability - from newly manufactured recumbent trikes from Terra Trike to a locally designed independent hiking wheelchair like the GRIT Freedom Chair.

An exciting triumph of design is the ParaGolfer, an all terrain power wheelchair that can stand you up so you can swing a golf club anywhere on the course. Both the Freedom Chair and the ParaGolfer are recent advancements in adaptive equipment that DCR's Universal Access Program discovered at this event, then purchased for use in Massachusetts State Parks. Tom McCarthy, Universal Access Program director, tried the ParaGolfer for the first time this year and was thrilled to stand up in it.