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.