Sunday, September 6, 2015

Accessibility at State Parks

I've wanted to write about this ever since my camping trip back in June. 

Since I've been paying more attention to accessibility, I notice more and more how inaccessible many places are.  And Isaac and I have spent a lot of time at state parks this summer and I am disappointed, though not really surprised, at how inaccessible many of them are.

It really hit home for me on our camping trip.  There was this trail that was marked with a sign announcing how the first 3/4 of a mile or something like that was accessible.  Keep in mind that "accessible" is usually shorthand for "wheelchair accessible" or "accessible for people that have trouble walking." 

So the first 3/4 mile of this trail was paved and wide and flat.  That's great. 

Many of the trails at this state park were not very accessible and it would be impossible to make them all accessible, because it was a very hilly area.  Many of the trails were very steep and narrow and windy and would be hard to pave and even if you did pave them, they were much too steep for a wheelchair and it would have been impossible to make many of them flat enough.  I get that.  I do.  But why not make as many trails as possible accessible? 

And then there is this.

The accessible part of this particular trail led to a wide sandy area under a huge rocky ledge, almost like a shallow cave.  It was really cool.  And just around a little bend, on the other side of this ledge, was the coolest part.  A waterfall. 

The paved part of the trail ended at the sandy area.  And there is no way a wheelchair could make it through that sandy part (unless it was one of those special chairs designed for use on the beach or something).  From the end of the paved part of the trail, you could hear the waterfall.  But you couldn't see it.

Seriously?  They couldn't extend the paved part of the trail a little bit longer, so that someone using a wheelchair could see the falls?

I can tell you why they didn't.  They didn't because the trail was designed by able-bodied people, without input from anyone that actually uses a wheelchair, without much thought given to what accessibility really means.  The accessible part of the trail was an afterthought, done more so they could say "We have some accessible trails," not so much to actually provide access to people with disabilities.

Oh, that's not the reason they'd give if you asked.  Hmm, maybe I should contact the park service and ask them and see what they'd say.  But it would be something like "We only had so much funding for accessible trails" or "It would have been too difficult to pave the sandy area" or "We didn't want to mar the natural beauty of the area" or even "We didn't realize you couldn't see the falls from the end of the paved part of the trail, sorry."  But what all those excuses really mean is "We didn't think it was that important and we didn't even bother to see what it would actually be like to use the trail with a wheelchair."

And that got me thinking.

The bathrooms nearest our campsite where not accessible.  No way someone in a wheelchair could have used one of those toilets.  Teeny tiny toilet stalls and no grab bars.  And there was no sign telling anyone where the nearest accessible bathroom was, either.

The nearest accessible bathroom was the shower house, about twice as far from our campsite.  Only it was only sort of accessible.  There was an accessible toilet stall inside, but there was a super heavy door that opened out to get into the building and there was not one of those door opener buttons.  It is unlikely someone using a wheelchair could have opened that door and gotten inside the building without help.  Which kind of cancels out the accessible toilet stall, you know?

Want to know why it was designed that way?  Why they didn't bother to make the shower house really accessible and why the other bathroom wasn't accessible at all and why they didn't bother to put a sign on the other bathroom to let people know where they had to go for an accessible toilet?  Well, I'll tell you.

They figure people with disabilities don't really go camping anyway.  They figure people that use wheelchairs can't camp.  So why would you need accessible bathrooms at a campground?  And if by some small chance a disabled person using a wheelchair does go camping, surely they will be accompanied by an able-bodied caregiver.  Maybe not a paid caregiver, but a parent or other relative or maybe a friend, someone that can open the door to the shower house for them.  They figure those things don't really need to be accessible, anyway.

They might not tell you that, either, if you asked.  But that's the real reason.

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