I would like to submit comments related to the new outdoor guidelines. I recognize the difficult balance that you are trying to achieve in maintaining the natural setting and achieving some standardized accessibility guidelines. It is a huge challenge and I appreciate your efforts. Having worked in the field of adapted Outdoor Recreation for over 20 years I do believe there is a balance. At Northeast Passage participated in well over 100 hikes and have hiked over 20 mountains with mixed ability teams. The highest New England Mountain is over 5200 ft and have hiked as far away as Garibaldi Provincial Park in British Columbia. It is from this perspective that I offer my comments.
The Access board has done a great job “branding” the white wheelchair and stick figure as the sign for accessibility. With this figure, comes a certain set of expectations. I have serious concerns about using this figure in anyway related to the outdoor environment unless it is in a developed area where the ADAAG guidelines apply. Showing this figure, even with a different color or background, is not a good idea. I believe that people will interpret this as a “clever” modification not understanding that it should change their expectations for what they may encounter on the trail. The blue and white figure signifies a strict set of expectations. Even with a new set of outdoor guidelines there are so many variations that a single symbol can not prepare the user for lies ahead.
Outdoor access should be expressed through concise information that allows a user to make a decision about whether or not they choose to take a particular trail or enter a certain area.
Continuing on the theme of information for the user. Your average user is not going to have a clear understanding of technical definitions such as “degrees of firmness”. What is the difference of a surface one to three degrees different in firmness? I recommend using the definitions from the ITDS. First people in the industry have started to gain familiarity with these terms and users will more easily grasp these concepts.
I think all sites should have accessible elements. It offers more choice to users with disabilities, it does not negatively impact non-disabled users and it assures that these facilities are available. Especially in areas where sites are selected by users and not assigned you run the risk of non-disabled users taking up all the accessible elements when only a percentage are accessible.
This is very important. Yes Absolutely elements constructed on non accessible trails should be accessible. In the over 100 hikes that we have been part of at Northeast Passage, some of the trails have been selected precisely because they are not accessible. The team chose the hike to be an adventure. In many cases the hike has included an overnight at a hut — either Appalachian Mountain Club or Forest Service. The hikes have been team efforts but once arriving at the hut it is critically important that the hut be accessible. Constructed elements are in place as comfort, support or to preserve resources. These reasons for constructing these elements are not exclusive to non-disabled hikers. Hikers with disabilities should experience the wilderness as it is with all of its natural challenges and manmade supports.
Nature does not always comply with with mans intentions. As long as the information is available for users to make informed decisions, exceptions should be permitted to preserve the natural setting. This is especially true for facilities that have been in place for a long time.
Thanks for your consideration of my comments.
Jill Gravink, MS, CTRS
Director, Northeast Passage Clinical Faculty, UNH
Four Library Way, 107 Hewitt Hall
Durham, NH 03824