Thursday, December 10, 2015

Angie and Dan Boyle Have a Great Year

I met Angie and Dan Boyle last July as new participants at our adaptive kayaking program at the D.A.R. State Forest. They quickly became dedicated participants, coming to several different programs weekly around the state all summer and making the most of every opportunity available. Angie's story is a true inspiration for getting out there and enjoying all the great benefits of time well spent in the outdoors! Thank you Angie and Dan Boyle for sharing your story in the following Guest Post! We look forward to seeing you this winter!

As the 20th anniversary year of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) Universal Access Program ends, we had to report the very significant impact its activities have had and continue to add to our lives.
Here’s a little background:

Angie and Dan on Spectacle Island.
On August 25, 2013, while swimming at Biddeford Pool, Maine, I (Angela) was swept by a rogue wave into a rock.  The result was a soft tissue brain injury.  That made it impossible for me to continue in my profession as a family nurse practitioner, a career I pursued since I was an early teen.  That was followed by multi-organ failure in late February 2014 for which I was hospitalized at Baystate Medical Center for eight days.  About eight weeks later, when the Baystate VNA was discharging me so I could attend rehabilitation classes at the Weldon Rehabilitation Hospital, I fell and fractured my left leg in three places.  Honestly, I felt like I was living Murphy’s Law:  Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. 
Besides the physical health problems, the mental anguish, anxiety and depression were taking their toll on my husband Danny and me.  Whenever Danny tried to get me out of bed and out of our apartment if only to take a drive in our car, I wasn’t interested.  The fact that I could no longer care for patients was causing major depression.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Hiking After Traumatic Brain Injury

"People with TBI are often physically inactive, leading to reduced fitness levels and secondary health conditions. Regular physical activity can enhance balance and coordination, decrease reliance on assistive devices, and improve ability to perform activities of daily life and, therefore, foster independence. Studies also suggest that exercisers with TBI were less depressed and reported a better quality of life than those who did not exercise. The key is to find which exercises the person with a TBI enjoys and develop an individualized exercise prescription that accommodates each person's needs and abilities."  
- National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability.
This fall, I happily designed and facilitated a pilot hiking program for people with traumatic brain injuries in western Massachusetts. Before we'd gotten our small group out on the trail, one of our participant's personal caregiver said to me, "I get more physical therapy with Kevin on the trail than in the clinic. It is so much more meaningful for him to be in nature. I'm limited to where we can hike though, because we can't go beyond a safe distance for emergency services in case anything happens. So mostly we hike on one trail in a local state park."

Friday, November 6, 2015

Go Grit Freedom Chair

This year I've test driven the Freedom Chair, a recently developed off-road manual wheelchair, twice. This stunningly solid, affordable and conveniently designed wheelchair was created by MIT students as a school project and produced in quantity for use in underdeveloped countries. This innovative entrepreneurial student group has since launched a company, called GRIT, to produce the Freedom Chair for sale in the U.S. In their first year they've sold seventy chairs so far.

I first tested the Freedom Chair in early spring, with snow still on the ground, as the Go Grit team was fundraising to produce their first round of chairs. A couple of us in the Universal Access Program were able to test ride it outside our office and discovered that it could travel over grassy terrain and snow patches with ease. We could even work it up over curbs and handle uneven terrain pretty well. Our landscape was limited though and we didn't have a true user, someone who actually uses a manual wheelchair, to give us what I would consider official feedback.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Joannah Whitney Rows Far

Story and photos by Laila Soleimani

Joannah Whitney is an avid rower. She’s a regular participant in our Universal Access Program as she has been rowing on the Connecticut River for the last three seasons with Holyoke Rows. Formerly an archaeologist before a diagnosis of MS, she’s someone who loves being out in the natural world, particularly on the open water. During the regular rowing season, from May-October, Joannah is on the water every week, without question.

I first met Joannah this past August.  Looking very comfortable and relaxed on the water, she smiled from ear to ear, when I asked her to pose for a photo. She has that same jovial smile when I ask her to tell me what she loves about the rowing program. “Over the course of the season I get to see the trees change, I get to see the water level rising and lowering. I love seeing eagles, herons, cormorants, or other animals on the banks, or in the water. I love the feeling of putting my oars in the water, pulling against it for part of the stroke, then feeling the scull glide as I reach forward to start the next stroke.”

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Testing New Adaptive Paddling Equipment

This month, DCR's Universal Access Program staff have been testing out some new adaptive equipment for next year. It's been a treat to get out into the fall landscape!

We tested a canoe paddle modification we made based on a recommendation from AccesSport America. Bending the paddle in two spots keeps hands low for those who have trouble raising their arms. We found this modification worked in both bow and stern. Adding hand supports from Creating Ability made it possible to steer. Our only concern is the paddle could be lighter!

We also tested new kayaking equipment from Creating Ability including the kayak chariot, transfer bench and paddle pivot.

The kayak chariot makes pushing and pulling boats in and of the water with passengers much easier and takes a lot of strain off staff. We found a little bit of back bend is still required, but very little effort to move loaded kayaks. Empty kayaks can be placed on the big-wheeled chariot, then quickly hooked into place with straps. A small stepstool is required at the bow to level the kayak for loading.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Spectacle Island Adventure in Boston

Thanks to Laila Soleimani for this second Guest Post with photos!

This month, I had the opportunity to go to an adaptive hiking program on Spectacle Island. The program, organized by Stavros Outdoor Access as part of the DCR Universal Access Program, allowed participants and their family and friends to enjoy a fabulous outing in Boston with gentle hiking and breathtaking views of the city’s skyline.

Spectacle Island, 114 acres and just 4 miles from Boston in Boston Harbor, is an accessible getaway open annually from May to Columbus Day weekend in October.  It’s a twenty minute ferry ride from Long Wharf and a perfect day trip for anyone interested in exploring. The ferry ride allows for a closer look at the gorgeous boats on the harbor and planes landing at Logan International Airport. We had clear sunny skies and perfect weather to do just this.

When we first arrived at Spectacle Island, we convened at the technologically green visitor center, where an interpreter taught us about the history of the island. Outside of the visitor center were big Adirondack chairs where some of us sat and lunched while taking in the sights. Given that Spectacle is the highest point in the harbor, there is quite a bit to see. It’s a tranquil change of pace from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Acton and Arnold Arboretums Accessible to All

Thanks to Marjorie Turner Hollman for her second Guest Post and for keeping us informed about great accessible places to visit and enjoy nature!

My husband and I used to visit the Acton (MA) Arboretum often in our courting days. It had been a while since we last visited, but we stopped there recently and found some positive changes in this 64-acre town-owned arboretum. Much remains the same: shady paths, a ramp with railings through a wetlands area, and herb gardens. The boardwalk over a quaking bog offers interesting sights and exciting views of diverse plant life (if you love swamps). Throughout the arboretum are lots of both sunny and shady spots to simply rest and enjoy being there. And if you’re a fan of shade-loving hosta plants, you’ll have the opportunity to study 150 different varieties.

In the past, the trails were all crushed stone or woodland paths. But on our most recent visit, we found some paths that are still crushed stones, but many of the trails that lead from the main parking area off Taylor Road in Acton are now paved. We also found a handicapped-accessible port-a-potty next to the parking lot (available from May-November). The Acton Arboretum information kiosk (and website) notes that numerous other accessibility improvements are in the works. Great news all.

Monday, August 31, 2015

WIndrush Farm Offers Adaptive Horseback Riding in a Massachusetts State Park

This month I once again visited Bradley Palmer State Park in Topfield, MA to assist with an annual adaptive horseback riding program facilitated by Windrush Farm Therapeutic Equitation. Four horses and a dozen or so staff and volunteers from Windrush Farm provided 40 minute trail walks through the forested park. A ramp - trailered in an unfolded on site - allowed riders to walk up to a platform from which they could safely mount the calm horses, with assistance if needed.

Interested riders had pre-registered and filled out paperwork to meet the requirements of riding, including a doctor's signature. Individuals, families and groups came to fill the four riding spots per hour. My job was simply to greet and further register people arriving on site and serve as a liaison between Windrush Farm, park staff, and the public. It was a hot day and some riders had cancelled last minute. The horses and their attendant staff stayed cooler in the shade between excursions.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the ADA and More

The following Guest Post is from Laila Soleimani, a new Outreach Assistant for DCR's Universal Access Program. Just coming into the world of disability rights and adaptive recreation at this historic moment, Laila shares her experience of the ADA Celebration on the Boston Common.

A few of DCR's adaptive bikes in the parade.
             As crowds of people eagerly began to make their way to the corner of Boylston and Tremont Streets for the kick-off march, the 25th anniversary celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act was underway.
 I walked amidst the crowd, passing friends excitedly gathering together and volunteers holding signs ready to assist. There were many different organizations showing their support at this event. The bright, vibrant colors of their t-shirts against gorgeous green grass made the event vivacious and colorful.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Golfers With Disabilities Enjoy the Outdoors

This week I thoroughly enjoyed visiting a golf program offered by Spaulding Adaptive Sports at the Leo J. Martin Memorial Golf Course in Weston, Massachusetts. Five golfers with disabilities were engaged in playing out on the course when I arrived. Three were stroke survivors, one had Parkinson's disease and one had mild CP. They all appreciated the relatively flat course as an accessible feature. Leo J. Martin Memorial Golf Course also has brand new accessible bathrooms and will soon feature more accessible parking spaces.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Happy Trails for Everyone in South-Central Massachusetts

Thanks to Marjorie Turner Hollman for offering this Guest Post! Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and has completed two guides to Easy Walking trails in Massachusetts, Easy Walks in Massachusetts, and More Easy Walks in Massachusetts. She shares with us 3 of her favorite places to walk, including a Massachusetts State Park! Keep up the great work of helping people find easy walks Marjorie!

I’m a Florida girl who moved to New England to ensure I would see snow, (yes, I’ve seen quite a bit!), but I fell in love with the rocks and hilly terrain that make up southern New England, and I have never left.  My enjoyment is perhaps a little different from that of many people because paralysis in my right foot and ankle have challenged me to find outdoor places I could visit and enjoy safely.

 My professional work as a personal historian has taught me to create books—initially for individuals wanting to share family stories with the next generation. Now, with the publication of two walking guides to south central Massachusetts, I’ve written for a wider public. At first, “easy walks” for me were simply an assortment of local places that my family and I enjoyed visiting for short walks. I found many pretty spots; some offered views, others were simple loop trails around ponds, and still others were railtrails whose paved or crushed stone surfaces allowed my husband and me to ride our tandem bike. Two books later, I’ve catalogued 25 contiguous towns and 65 trails in south central Massachusetts.  I’m still seeking out Easy Walks to enjoy and share with others. Here are a few of my favorite places near where I live.

Hopedale Parklands, Hopedale, MA

Hopedale Parklands combines the things I love best—history, water views, and easy walking. One hundred years ago, the town of Hopedale finished a carriage road around Hopedale Pond, creating a place for area residents to get out and enjoy the outdoors. The carriage road is hard-packed gravel, not paved. The wide path is a little rough in a few spots; there are boulders of various sizes along the way, with lots of spots to get great views of the pond as you travel through the woodland that surrounds the area.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Adaptive Golf Carts and Opportunities

At DCR's annual Adaptive Recreation Fair last month in Boston, I investigated 3 different adaptive golf carts on display. Although I'm not a golfer, this was a unique opportunity to find out more about golf adaptations for people with mobility impairments. Learning more about adaptive golf carts lead me to discover that golf has been adapted for people with autism and visual impairments too! I also found out that adaptive golf, just like any other adaptive recreation activity, has profound power to transform people's lives.

The SoloRider on left and the ParaGolfer on right.
Since golf is especially popular among older adults, it follows that adaptations have long been part of the game. The golf cart is an adaptation for the original game of golf, allowing players to conserve energy as they move through the course. Naturally it is the "perfect vehicle" for further adaptations to allow even more people to play, including those who cannot stand on their own.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

EZ Dock Accessible Kayak and Canoe Station

It was a very cool day on May 1 when three of us from DCR's Universal Access Program investigated an accessible dock in Norwell, Massachusetts. We had to wear coats to test the accessible kayak and canoe station that is part of the EZ Dock system.

A transfer bench allows people to transition while sitting
to a lower bench where access into the boat is easier.
I've been curious about this dock system for over a year and happy to finally get to see one. The Town of Norwell's Conservation Commission gets a lot of kudos for proactively installing a system designed to allow everyone access to paddling on a beautiful pond. Two members of the Commission, Bob and Ron, gave us a tour and reported that all kinds of users appreciate the dock's easier access boating features.

EZ Docks are modular plastic systems that allow for quick installation, little maintenance, and the potential to add or subtract components later. Norwell's design allows for a kayak or canoe to be pulled along the gangway by rope onto the chute to the transfer area of the kayak and canoe station.  The dock's approximately 16 modular sections provide a broad space for multiple or group use. Other aspects include wheel stops at the dock edge (security curbing), tie down cleats and benches.  The whole system floats with spiral anchors that did not require special permitting to put in place. Attached at shore to a wooden wheelchair accessible rampway from two accessible parking spaces, Norwell's EZ Launch dock system is an inspiring example of greater access to the water.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Benefits and Features of Accessible Hiking Trails

Spring is here and with warmer weather comes a new call to break out of the house and explore the outdoors for those with a sense of adventure!

If you are interested in accessible trails as a way to get out there on your own or with others who need trails designed to improve access, many such trails exist in Massachusetts - as well as around the U.S.- that are well worth visiting. A list of Massachusetts accessible trails can be found below.

"Trails are part of wellness," says Janet Zeller, Accessibility Manager for the U.S. Forest Service. Janet has quadriplegia and is an avid hiker and paddler. She is also a wonderful speaker on topics relating to outdoor access and presents across the country.  I was fortunate to hear her speak about accessible trail design last fall at a conference.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Gliding Stars Skate Walkers

After fifteen years of making skate walkers to assist people with balance in our adaptive ice skating programs, I have been thrilled to discover a professionally manufactured skate walker.

While making skate walkers out of PVC pipe is relatively inexpensive, our walkers have had a tendency to break or come apart in transit to programs and sometimes even in use on the ice.  Since we are using the PVC pipe in a way it was not intended, there is a vulnerability to cracking of joints in particular on cold ice. They've required extra attention to be sure they are in good working order and used properly so they don't slip out unexpectedly from under the user.  Having to discard broken skate walkers and rebuild for each season is a hassle I'd love to eliminate as a recreation manager.

The metal skate walkers offered by Gliding Stars offer a four leg stable wide base design that is very difficult to knock out of position while in use, even when applying full body weight. Weight limit? 350 pounds! The walkers are hinged with a tube-within-a-tube method that allows for folding in transport. Foam handles offer a cushioned support for  hands and avoid contact with cold metal. The walkers come in three sizes to cover a range of heights. Though I would prefer one walker model that allowed for height adjustability, I am sure that the three sizes offer a better fit and stability for individuals within the size range of the design.

Gliding Stars is a fantastic adaptive skating program based in New York oriented toward teaching people with disabilities who are ambulatory the fundamentals of ice skating. Founded in 1994, Gliding Stars has developed their own line of assistive devices as part of their mission to provide individuals with disabilities the opportunity to increase their potential and have fun learning to ice skate. They provide instructional expertise and guidance to communities interested in starting chapters. Gliding Stars has chapters around the country in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Florida and is looking for more venues.

Each chapter offers an end of season public ice show allowing skaters to dress in costume and demonstrate their skills to music.

Check out recent performances on YouTube, where you can see various skate walker designs in action, by searching Gliding Stars 2015.

Anybody want to start up a Gliding Stars chapter in Massachusetts?

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Hammocking is for Everyone

A big thanks to David St. Martin for sharing his love of “hammocking” with me last summer after we had kayaked on the Charles River with Waypoint Adventure during a Universal Access Program near Boston.  

Hammocking in winter is surprisingly enjoyable even for
just 15 minutes!
David explained to me that due to his lifelong rheumatoid arthritis, he is unable to camp in tents as he cannot get down to the ground and back up again. He opened his car trunk and showed me a pile of small bundles - his hammock collection. Hammock technology has come a long way since I hung a heavy canvas army jungle hammock in a front yard willow tree as a teen. Now they can be compressed down to a softball-sized bundle that can be easily stowed in a daypack! 

David is part of a well-established new movement of hammockers that I had previously been unaware of - comprised of college students, hikers, outdoor enthusiasts, even urbanites - some of whom camp in hammocking groups.  I’m happy to be a new member of this creative subculture in which hammocks are included on various day adventures, used for overnight accommodations and offer 15 minutes or more of vacation-like respite almost anywhere, anytime. Once in Costa Rica, I passed by a truck driver napping in a hammock underneath his semi alongside the highway. Online an air traffic controller reports taking his 15 minute break on the tarmac outside the tower in - you guessed it - his hammock! There is no end to where you can find temporary respite using this simple item! 

This singlenest hammock fit easily into a fannypack and
set up in a minute. Tree-friendly straps
allow for easy adjustability.

Whether you simply rest in a hammock or sleep in it, there are significant health benefits. The bilateral stimulation of rocking side to side soothes the nervous system. When hung in a natural setting, the benefits of forest bathing are easily recieved. Those who sleep in them swear by numerous improvements including faster and deeper sleep and relief from joint pain. Laying in them diagonally across the center line allows for a level resting position.

I’m finding hammocking to be especially fun on winter day hikes, something I never would have considered before. They set up and take down in a minute and offer a chance to rest up off the ground and rock gently under the trees. After a hammock rest in a beautiful spot, I’m ready to resume the hike much more refreshed than if I had stood or sat while taking a break.

Of the various brands of hammocks David had in his trunk, there were single hammocks, double sized, super light and perhaps more. Most outdoor stores are selling hammocks now. My first purchase was a singlenest hammock by Eagles Nest Outfitters, which I totally love. As soon as I started bringing it on hikes with friends, I immediately wanted a bigger hammock to be able to include more people, so I got a doublenest. Now three or four of us can swing upright while we snack or catch a few Zs lying down. Hammock companies offer various accessories - rain flys, mosquito netting, sleep pads, gear stowing slings and more, as well as tree-friendly strapping systems.

My outdoor explorations include a new element - scoping for great hammock spots. This gives me a different sense of destination, one in which I can bask in the beauty of a particular grove of trees or enjoy forest bathing by flowing water - creating more rest time in nature wherever and whenever I like. The portability of this pastime offers an ongoing sense of mini-vacations in an endless series of micro-destinations. 

Hammocks offer new possibilities for people with disabilities, including those with mobility impairments. Some people may need assistance setting up and taking down, and/or getting in and out. Hennessy hammocks makes a bottom entry hammock that allows for easier entry and exit and works well for many who find the conventional top loading style too difficult. For those in wheelchairs, hammocking might be a new frontier worth checking out. For further info, investigate online - you might be surprised by what you find!

When was the last time you enjoyed lying in a hammock?