Disabled Hikers Are Valid Too

A typical Monday morning might find me toeing a rocky trail in the middle of a forest. Unlike working, hiking is something that I can do on my own time and when my symptoms permit.

Some people might find it odd that I am disabled but often hike. In fact, it is more common than one might assume.

America the Beautiful pass for people with permanent disabilities

It is so common, in fact, that U.S. Parks and Recreation offer a free pass for people with permanent disabilities. The America the Beautiful pass covers free entrance to 2,000 federal recreation sites. These sites include national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests and grasslands, and other lands.1

I was thrilled when I applied for and received my America the Beautiful pass. There were a few small fees I had to pay, such as a shipping and processing fee. They were no more than $10 total. That means the pass is pretty financially accessible to people with disabilities, who most often live on limited budgets.

Room for improvement on accessibility

Unfortunately, full national park accessibility for disabled people ends there. While it depends upon the park itself, few national parks excel at being accessible. Even a registry with detailed accessibility information about the trails, campgrounds, and buildings of these national parks would be invaluable. This would make these outdoor settings more accessible for disabled populations.

Why visiting national parks is good for our well-being

I think it is important for national parks to be accessible to disabled people for many reasons. Disabled people suffer both mentally and physically due to their conditions. Hiking and exploring outdoors is empowering and has immense health benefits. Studies of the impact of nature on the human body show cardiovascular, autonomic nervous system, endocrine, and psychological benefits.2

People with disabilities often have a variety of comorbidities. This means that sick people tend to be sick in multiple ways. Body systems are intricately tied, and the misbalance of one can often lead to misbalance in another.

For example, people with narcolepsy are often prone to depression, anxiety, obesity, issues regulating blood pressure, and more. This is especially true since narcolepsy is considered an autoimmune disorder.3,4

Resources for disabled hikers

Some resources exist to provide accessibility to disabled hikers in the U.S. For example, disabledhikers.com aims to create a guide for disabled hikers by disabled hikers. These trail reports include details such as trail conditions, elevation, segments and trailheads, road conditions, and more. Notes on necessary mobility aids and level of strain (measured by “spoons”) are also included.

Trails that allow off-leash dogs, for example, would not be suitable for people like me who have service dogs. Off-leash dogs can often be unpredictable.

Another newer resource includes AllTrails. AllTrails is a hiking app that is looking to improve accessibility for its disabled users. They are currently asking for responses on trail conditions for people with disabilities. While these steps are small, they show that the disabled community is creating a space for themselves within the outdoor community. As fellow members of Earth, it is our birthright.

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