Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Adaptive Hiking Equipment and Techniques

“Within a couple of minutes of starting the hike, I started to notice a change in myself. I became more relaxed and more centered. There is something about walking in the woods surrounded by ferns and wildflowers under the shade of all the trees that I find very calming.” -David Whitenett, quadriplegic hiker
DCR’s Universal Access Program has been offering adaptive outings around Massachusetts for 15 years, providing opportunities statewide for individuals with disabilities to hit the trail and discover their park system. The programs are facilitated by Brenda Davies of Stavros Outdoor Access, a program of the Center for Independent Living. Brenda’s warm personality and the use of a variety of equipment and techniques have given many people wonderful outdoor experiences they might not have had otherwise, from Spectacle Island in Boston Harbor to Pittsfield State Forest in the Berkshires.

We based our program on the hiking techniques developed by Northeast Passage of Durham, NH in which the use of a modified all-terrain wheelchair allows seated hikers to move off accessible trails onto more rugged terrain. While this can be an independent endeavor for athletic individuals, most often this is accomplished with teamwork, a process that works well for individuals, families and groups in a program structure.

“We didn’t think that everyone could participate but your mountain wheelchair and staff helped make it possible for a memorable hike for us.” -Neal Drew, teacher

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Checking out the Accessible Trail and Birds at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary

Cyndy Chamberland shares her recent process getting comfortable with birding outdoors on her own as a power wheelchair user. Without natural places that offer accessibly designed landscapes, this would not be possible for many people with physical disabilities. Thanks Cyndy for offering your experience to inspire others with disabilities to explore their local resources! Thanks Mass Audubon for your dedication to making nature accessible to all! 

Recently on a cool but sunny late morning I met up with my friend and former colleague, Marcy Marchello, at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary for a little birding expedition and to check out their accessible sensory trail. Arcadia is a Mass Audubon property practically in my own backyard.  It's located off the Manhan Rail Trail in Eastern Massachusetts.  Yet while it is so close, I have only ventured there just a few times in my twenty-something years living in Easthampton. Why is that?  Well for starters, as I am  quadriplegic and use a power wheelchair, so I am leery about going into the woods and on trails unless I am sure the trails are accessible.  It isn't pleasant when you find out that the trail or outdoor site has obstacles such as steps, boulders, logs, streams etc. that restrict wheelchair users and other persons with physical and visual disabilities from accessing the trails and area.  We don't always know if a place is accessible to us even when it is in our own neighborhood or town.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Importance of Accessible Nature Trails - and Where to Find Them in Massachusetts

Accessible trails allow for group as well as individual
and family exploration of parks.
This month I attended the Massachusetts Trails Conference in Leominster. The theme of the conference was “Trails For All”. I use many accessible trails in the course of my work as an adaptive recreation program coordinator and well know how they improve quality of life for people of all abilities. Many trail users, including trail building advocates, continue to discover the value of trails designed for everyone.
Dick O’Brien, Chairperson for the Massachusetts Recreational Trails Advisory Board, gave a wonderful opening speech sharing how he has discovered the importance of accessible trails. Many of the 250+ attendees had gray hair, so it is surely getting easier for the trail using community to grasp the issue as they age.  Nevertheless, by sharing his personal experiences, Dick spoke to our hearts. From his father’s need for a wheelchair changing his ability to access favorite places, to a conservation donor’s frustration at not being able to see her property to discuss improvements, and to his own recent health issues, Dick demonstrated the vital need for access to natural places. How do you get out there to enjoy the outdoors if your health and abilities have become compromised?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Fort River Birding and Nature Trail Opens in Hadley, MA

Andrew French (right side) of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service at trail opening with members of the local community.

The Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts has a brand new award-winning accessible trail! The official opening of occurred in late October and was well attended by people with disabilities, as well as members of the general public. The Fort River Birding and Nature Trail is the latest addition to the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge which spans four states with numerous properties along the Connecticut River watershed. 
The Fort River Birding and Nature Trail offers a 1.2 mile experience traversing 260 acres of grassland, wetlands, hardwood and floodplain forests off  Moody Bridge Road in Hadley, Massachusetts.  Designed as one loop, the trail is constructed of stone dust with wooden edging and eight elevated boardwalks.  Seven different viewing decks are spaced along the trail to allow seated enjoyment of various natural areas, group stops, and nature interpretation and study. This is the longest accessible trail in the region that I know of allowing for a quiet, off road outing for all to enjoy in nature. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Cheers for Chairs! Revolutionary Sailing Prototype Needs Your Support!

A fantastic project is underway in Boston to develop a universally accessible seating system for sailing that will allow people with severe physical disabilities to be in full control of the boat. Now is the time to jump in and help complete this inspiring venture! Richard Ramos, previously featured in Everyone Outdoors, offers this Guest Post. I am amazed at how far he has come in pursuit of  his dream. True inspiration!
I love sailing! My primary goal with this project is to bring to others the freedom and exhilaration and transformation of spirit that sailing has brought to my life since reconnecting with it five years ago. 
During this past year, I’ve been working with members of the RIT engineering department; specifically with a very talented RIT engineer named Aleef Mahmud, to design specialized equipment that enables me to race sailboats competitively. The work we’ve done is in support of another goal: to mount a successful campaign to compete in the Paralympics. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Tully Lake Campground and Recreation Area Accessibility

LeeAnn LaRue worked as a seasonal recreation assistant for DCR’s Universal Access Program this summer. As an avid outdoors person and mother of a person with a disability, she offers this accessible review of a favorite camping and recreational area. Thanks LeeAnn for this Guest Post!
Open water for paddling among islands at Tully Lake
Tully Lake Campground and Tully Recreation Area are two locations in north central Massachusetts that have several features that make them inviting for those with disabilities.   Located in Royalston, MA, the surrounding forest and lake with its several islands are full of beauty and recreational possibilities for all. Recently, Tully Lake Campground has been featured online in the Boston Globe, Yankee Magazine, and in AMC Outdoors Magazine as a great spot for family-friendly, tent-only camping and non-motorized boating in a pristine area.
Tully Lake Campground is located at the base of Doane’s Falls and is surrounded on three sides by the beautiful Tully Lake.  Its campground offers two accessible campsites and accessible restrooms.  The terrain to get to the accessible campsites is a gravel/dirt road which may be challenging but do-able for those in a wheelchair.  The two handicapped parking spots are near the path to the accessible sites.  
Upon close inspection, the two sites are about 80 yards and 164 yards from the parking area.  This distance might be a challenge for those who are not so athletic but with a little help can be accomplished.  The campfire ring is ADA approved which means it is higher for easy access. Picnic tables at these two sites are accessible and meet the ADA guidelines.   One of the accessible sites has direct access to the water, however the path - although gently sloped - is not wide enough for a wheelchair to pass.  The restrooms are accessible, clean, and a ramp leads to the doors.  

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Wheelchair Accessible Summits in Massachusetts

Accessible trail on Mt. Greylock
With fall colors beginning to emerge, it is a great time to find yourself at a scenic vista in New England. Within DCR’s Massachusetts State Parks, there are three distinct accessible summit opportunities. In all three places the summit area is reachable by car with a daily parking fee of $2 for Massachusetts residents, $4 for non-residents.

Wachusett  Mountain is a well-known single mountain in central Massachusetts, complete with a popular downhill ski concession. Pass the ski concession and keep going on your drive to the top, 2000 feet above sea level. There are several designated spots for closest parking. The viewing tower is not far away at the terminus of a gradually ascending paved trail used by hikers and bicyclists. The tower’s viewing area is securely ramped around the base and offers seating with views in all directions. 
Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire is the most visible mountain to the north. On a clear day you can also see the Berkshires to the west and Boston’s skyline to the east. In the fall you may find birdwatchers scanning for migrating hawks. Be aware that there are no restrooms at the summit, so plan to stop at the park visitor center on your way up or down. There is also no seating along the walk to the tower, so bring your own folding chair if a place to sit is needed.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Treat Yourself to The Gardens at Elm Bank Reservation

Bright color in Weezie's Garden
As I entered the Massachusetts Horticultural Society Gardens at Elm Bank Reservation in Wellesley a few weeks ago, I met two women on their way back to the parking lot. One of them was using a wheelchair.
“How are the gardens?” I asked. Smiles lit up their faces as they answered. “Wonderful!” 
This was my first visit to the Gardens at Elm Bank during the summer season. I was looking forward to seeing the cultivated beauty this DCR state park has to offer along the Charles River near Boston.  Beyond the accessible restroom facilities near the front gate, the brochure indicates several different garden installations on the property, each designed by a different noteworthy horticultural designer. 
The Gardens are a sensory feast of color, landscape design and artistic elements. Turns out some of the installations are more accessible than others. Two gardens are very wheelchair and stroller accessible. Two other gardens are fairly accessible if you can navigate thick mown grass. Some of the other gardens would require wheelchair assistance or gait support for those with less strength or balance due to eroded pathways. Overall the Gardens at Elm Bank are definitely worth a visit.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Summit House Now Accessible to All

Make sure to visit this beautiful park this summer or fall – the winding road to the top is a fun drive and now wheelchair users can access and explore the building and enjoy the full view. Those with other mobility impairments should have much easier access too. 
This popular scenic vista in western Massachusetts offers panoramic views of the Connecticut River and surrounding landscape from 900 feet up. Part of Skinner State Park, the Summit House can be reached off of Route 47 in Hadley. 
Many mountaintops in western Massachusetts once had such summit houses, which served as hotels in the 1800s. Most of these historic structures have burned down long ago. Visiting the Summit House at Skinner State Park is a unique opportunity to enjoy a bit of history while picnicking and taking in fresh air and views.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Massachusetts Welcomes Floating Beach Wheelchairs

Over the past three summers, floating beach wheelchairs have been multiplying at public beaches on Cape Cod. Soon they will become prevalent along the coast of Massachusetts from Cape Cod to Salisbury Beach on the New Hampshire border. Now anyone with a physical disability who would like access from a car across the sand and into the water can accomplish this task with ease, thanks to the amazing endeavor of two mothers of children with disabilities who comprise an organization called SMILE Mass.
SMILE (Small Miracles in Life Exist!) Mass is the creation of Lottie Diomede and Susan Brown. Together they are raising money through special events and donations to purchase Mobi-Chairs as part of their mission to improve the quality of life - and especially vacations - for people with disabilities and their caregivers. 64 floating beach wheelchairs have now been donated to beaches in 14 towns across Cape Cod. To see the full list of the beaches with the beach wheelchairs, click here. These wheelchairs are always free to use and are suitable for anyone with mobility issues, both children and adults alike. Susan and Lottie have big plans to continue placing Mobi-Chairs along the coast of New England, as well as other similarly inspirational projects in the works.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Liberated With SideStix

SideStix All Terrain Crutches change people's lives! If you walk but have mobility issues and you are missing your former all terrain habits, consider SideStix!

These lightweight, well-engineered Canadian crutches offer shock absorption, an articulating/rotating ankle, padded cuffs, ergonomic hand grips and interchangeable tips for sand, mud, snow and ice. They are designed to take the strain off your shoulders and other joints as well as get you out where you want to be!

My neighbor Libby suffers from premature degeneration of her hip joints. She called me up to see what I might know of that could help her walk in the woods again. We discussed various options including hiking poles and SideStix.

After trying the SideStix, she was ecstatic. "I walked the dogs today with the SideStix. I didn't cry on my way home. I could walk and not be in pain at the end of the day. This is going to change my life!"

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Adaptive Bicycles Offer Greater Access to Cycling

Don’t let physical limitations stop you from enjoying a bike ride! Many well-established bike designs on the market today reach beyond the typical concept of the traditional upright two-wheeled bicycle. Adaptive bikes often sport three wheels and offer people of all ages with a wide variety of disabilities greater stability and function as they access bike paths, trails, and roads.
Hand Cycles
People using wheelchairs with good upper body strength most commonly use hand cycles – hand and arm powered tricycles which come in either upright touring models or sleek, low riding performance bikes. For people who cannot use their legs to propel themselves, these bikes are a wonderful way to get out of a wheelchair and experience the exercise benefits of cycling.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Accessible Fishing in Massachusetts

Spring is here and the fish are biting! For those who seek to relax with a line in the water, there are   many accessible locations for fishing as well as a fantastic year round array of fishing programs in Massachusetts.

In DCR's state parks, wheelchair accessible fishing docks can be found at a variety of locations including Carson Beach and Castle Island (Boston), the Cape Cod Canal (Sandwich), Mt. Tom State Reservation (Holyoke), DAR State Forest (Goshen),  and Dunn State Park (Gardner). Other locations with level ground or good beach access are Houghton's Pond (Milton), Hampton Ponds (Westfield), Farnum's Crossing (Cheshire) and Berry Pond (Pittsfield).

Massachusetts Division of Fish and Wildlife's Angler Education Program offers introductory clinics, fishing derbies and festivals, fly tying courses and more throughout the state. May and June are the peak season, although events are offered year round. While many programs are family oriented, coming up on May 17 in Marlboro is a Learn-to-Fish event for disabled veterans only. Click here for their calendar! In addition to traditional fishing equipment, the Angler Education Program has adaptive fishing gear for those with disabilities.

There are adaptive fishing products available for those who have limited or no grip, one arm only,  and difficulty casting, as well as fishing rod holders that fit on wheelchairs or attach to the body. You can find them all at Access to Recreation or Adaptive Outdoorsman.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Essential Eligibility Criteria

It’s spring! 
Want to ride a bike? Never been on one before – or since your disability?
How do you know if you can actually do it?
Essential Eligibility Criteria can help anyone interested in a new recreation adventure figure out if they can participate, based on what is required in order to do the activity safely.
Once established by an outfitter for their unique programs, these criteria become public information, highlighting what each participant must be able to do and offering easy reference points for determining eligibility. In the past year, DCR’s Universal Access Program has developed Essential Eligibility Criteria for each adaptive activity offered year round in Massachusetts State Parks. Now, if you are interested in cycling this spring or kayaking this summer, we can converse with you more uniformly and accurately about what is required. 
In order to participate in any Universal Access Program year round, we have a set of general criteria that apply. If you meet these first tier requirements, you are eligible to participate! These are the general criteria:
  • Come to the program prepared for the weather and conditions of the day, including dressing for the elements and being able to provide own sun/rain protection and hydration/snacks.
  • Be able to manage personal care such as dressing, toileting, eating and drinking independently or with the assistance of a companion who accompanies the individual and serves as a caretaker.
  • Be able to transfer on/off/in/out of equipment independently or with assistance (if over 200# must provide own transfer assistance)
  • Be able to follow verbal and/or visual directions independently or with the assistance of a companion, caretaker or interpreter.
  • Be able and willing to wear protective equipment properly, such as bike helmets and personal flotation devices.
  • Use equipment appropriate for personal weight without going beyond the weight capacity of program equipment.
  • Be able to refrain from behaviors that pose a risk (such as aggression, inability to set boundaries, lack of safely awareness, drug/alcohol use or influence) to self and others, independently or with caretaker assistance.
For specific recreation activities, additional criteria apply. If you are interested in cycling, here are the things you must be able to do in order to participate in our cycling programs:
  • Be able and willing to follow basic rules of safe riding on a rail trail with street crossings.
  • Be able and willing to respect the mechanical integrity of bikes.
  • Be able and willing to avoid trail hazards, as guided if needed.
  • Be willing to stay on the bike trail within the limits of park boundaries.
  • Be able to tolerate moderate physical exertion.
  • Be able and willing to respect your limitations with regards to how far you plan to go.
  • Be able to return bike on time.
Feel free to contact us at 413-545-5353 if you have further questions or would like information on upcoming cycling, hiking and paddling programs. Asking about eligibility requirements is a great way to start a conversation!
Essential Eligibility Criteria have been required by the U.S. Forest Service of all outfitters on national lands, so if you are interested in any activities offered in National Parks or Forests, you should be able to contact the outfitter and ask about their EEC! As EEC catch on among all kinds of recreation providers they will become the norm for providing clear information to anyone interested in new outdoor pursuits!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Catch the Sochi Paralympics! Join a Paralympic Sport Club!

Brenda Davies teaches the fundamentals
of turning on a sitski at the Weston Ski Track.
Today is Day 7 of the 10 day Winter Paralympics in Sochi, Russia. The host country is far ahead of the international pack of 45 competing countries with 50 medals, 18 of them gold. The U.S. had 8 medals so far, 4 silver and 4 bronze, thanks to wonderful ski performances in challenging conditions . The US sled hockey team, undefeated in the Vancouver 2010 Paralympics, will fight Russia for the gold medal on March 15.

Don't miss the Winter Paralympics! They are in progress through March 16. Media attention on this spectacular event is more extensive than ever before! You can view great daily coverage on NBCSN, YouTube Paralympic TV, and even On Demand if you get NBCSN. Like U.S. Paralympics on facebook for updates, stories and images. Catch video clips of Team USA here.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Swim With A Special Child

The Connell Pool features a ramped entry, pool lift,
wheeled pool chair and dolphin mural.
An adaptive swimming program was started at the Connell Pool in Weymouth over forty years ago and it is still going strong today. Intrigued by this model of longevity and sustainability, I visited the program in November at the only indoor pool operated by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. The program, known as Swim With A Special Child, was the inspiration of a few moms back in the 1970s. Little did they know how long it would last!

The program takes place from October to May in conjunction with the pool's schedule of operation. It is offers a great opportunity to prepare for the outdoor swimming season! Read on for a description of the program and how to sign up!