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How To Make Outdoor Activities More Accessible for People With Mobility Disabilities

 Updated on: September 20th, 2022

 An individual in a wheelchair works a charcoal grill at a campsite with friends.

The outdoors is a place of beauty and wonder. With the right preparation and planning, anyone can enjoy the great outdoors without risking health or safety.

For those with a mobility disability, things may be a bit more complicated — they may have unique needs that need to be considered when planning outdoor activities. This could include considerations like wheelchair-accessible trails or campsites, or being accompanied by someone who can help you navigate rough terrain or steep inclines.

In addition to these solutions, there are several other options worth considering when you’re looking to make outdoor activities more accessible.

Individual Needs

Ensure that the individual mobility needs of the friend or family member are understood. Ask what equipment they might need, such as a cargo carrier or other type of carrier, to have their tools transported. For example, if they use a wheelchair, they may need assistance moving it into and out of their vehicle. Anyone using a walker or cane may also need assistance moving those items.

Next, make sure that you know how much assistance they will require. This can vary from person to person, but it's important that you do so in order to make sure that no significant needs are overlooked.

If they can walk around on their own but need assistance with stairs or slopes, this would be an important piece of information for you to have before planning an event where there will likely be uneven ground or obstacles. Suppose they cannot walk unassisted but still want to engage in outdoor activities. In that case, you’ll want to enlist transportation options such as wheelchair vans, the right type of wheelchair ramp, and a manual wheelchair intended for rugged terrain.

Ensure That You Have Safe Means of Entering and Exiting Vehicles

It's important that a person can safely and comfortably enter and exit vehicles or load items into their car. If the individual has trouble lifting their legs into the car, it might be helpful to have someone help them by holding them up as they get into the vehicle. Once they've situated themselves in the seat, if they request any further assistance, you can help them buckle and adjust their seatbelt.

If you're working with an individual who has difficulty reaching objects on the floor of their vehicle you can use a long-handled tool or device to reach down and retrieve whatever item they need.

Consider some of these options to help individuals safely and comfortably enter and exit vehicles:

  • Portable ramps: Ideal for mobility scooters, offering compact, lightweight portability
  • Curb ramp: Perfect for commercial or industrial purposes to ensure durability and stability
  • Scooter lifts: Fit a variety of mobility aids and are simple to use.

Procure Accessible Accommodations and Bedding

If you are helping a family member or friend who has been diagnosed with a mobility condition, certain things can make their life easier. Here are some tips for helping them find the right accommodations and bedding while you are on the go or camping outdoors overnight:

Ask them what they need. If they have a specific condition that affects their mobility, it's important to consider that when looking for accommodations or preparing equipment and a to-do list for setting up camp. For example, if you're helping your mom who has arthritis and needs to use a walker to get around, she might need an elevated cot rather than just sleeping on the ground so she can get up more easily.

Consider their budget and lifestyle. If they have limited income or live alone, it might be difficult to afford their own RV or other necessary overnight adventure gear that accommodates their needs. In those cases, look into local charities that could provide free or discounted items—or even just borrow what you need from friends!

Look online for options. There are tons of websites out there that sell discounted sports equipment, outdoor gear, sleep gear, and adaptive equipment at affordable prices. Just Google "[type of item] + "cheap" or “affordable” and see what comes up!

Choose Accessible Outdoor Areas

There are many things to consider when choosing an accessible space for your outdoor activity. Here are some tips to help you find the right place:

  • Consider the weather. If you're looking for a place to go on a rainy day, find one sheltered by trees or buildings or one with indoor facilities like an auditorium or community center that can accommodate your group.
  • Think about what activities you want to do and ensure those activities are available in your chosen area. Then investigate available accommodations to see what is provided, and/or reach out to coordinate as needed For example, if you want to play sports or other outdoor games, look for local leagues that are organized by or for people with similar abilities and limitations.
  • Investigate logistics. Not all destinations will be equally accessible. It may save you time, money, and pain to look into risks and limitations before you go. Read reviews and reach out with questions if there is a resource for your destination to inquire about the specific needs or challenges you anticipate. See if they have protocols or advice you can use.

Choose Accessible Activities

Here are some tips for finding and choosing accessible outdoor activities:

  • Find out if the activity has an accessible version. Many outdoor activities have adapted versions that make them more accessible to people with disabilities. For example, just as most ski resorts offer chair lifts, there are also hiking trails that cater to people with disabilities. You can also find equipment that can aid you in your outdoor adventures such as mountain bikes that have been adapted for those in a wheelchair or wheelchair skis, which you can learn to use with further instruction programs across the U.S.
  • Talk to others about their experiences. If you're looking for an activity in your area, talk to people who have done it before — they'll be able to tell you what's involved and whether or not it might be a good fit for you.
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions. If you're unsure about something, don't be afraid to ask questions of staff members or other participants who might have insight into how best to make the experience work for you.

Be Aware of Local Emergency Services

In the event of an emergency, it's important to know what emergency services are available and how you can contact them. If you're prepared, you'll be able to react quickly and effectively when things go wrong.

There are many different ways to get in touch with emergency services, including calling 911 or visiting your local police station or fire department. You can also call for help through apps and websites like the U.S. Park Services website.

If you or one of the people with you have a medical condition that could become life-threatening in an emergency, such as diabetes or asthma, it's a good idea to have information about your condition and medications on hand, so that first responders know. This will enable them to provide appropriate care once they arrive on the scene.