Park Access for All Abilities
Nature knows no boundaries and neither should park visitors. People and Parks Foundation proudly supports the introduction of accessible equipment, facilities and programs into parks for visitors with disabilities.
Technologies that enable people with disabilities to experience meaningful time in nature are critical to the accessibility and inclusiveness of our parks. For instance, there are several key pieces of world-class, innovative equipment that enable people with restricted mobility to access wilderness areas previously restricted to walkers:
Designed by a person with a spinal injury, the TrailRider chair allows park visitors with significant physical disabilities to explore our many beautiful park trails. Its unique design enables visitors to access rugged walking trails that conventional wheelchairs cannot access. The latest innovation for the TrailRider is a motorized element, making it even easier for sherpas to manoeuvre, and allowing for increased access to trails in our National Parks. TrailRiders are designed for rugged track surfaces that are not accessible using conventional wheelchairs, making it easier to access the many stunning areas and trails throughout parks. A minimum of two operators (or Sherpas) are required to assist. For really challenging terrain, motorised TrailRiders are ideal, as they required fewer sherpas to assist. The TrailRider chairs don’t come cheap, with prices ranging from $7,000 to $15,000 per chair however, they offer their users a ticket to adventure, outdoor connection and feelings of empowerment and improved wellbeing.
Beach wheelechairs are designed to be enjoyed by both adults and children. They enable the user to access many of the park beaches not accessible with conventional wheelchairs, including the water! A minimum of one operator is required for terrestrial activities and two operators for water-based activities.
The Lasher BT Beach Wheelchair:
The special wheelchair can be provided in parks to enable visitors with disabilities or mobility limitations to access beaches independently. Due to its clever design and being built with very lightweight materials, visitors can self propel this wheelchair on sandy trail surfaces and on the beach. This wheelchair is well suited for a range of abilities but is particularly well suited for visitors with paraplegia who are accustomed to operating manual wheelchairs independently. The chair was selected in consultation with the disability community and has been trialed by a Leisure Specialist at the Victorian Spinal Cord Service, Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre.
Children’s Hippocampe All Terrain and Beach Wheelchairs:
Designed for children (and small to medium adults), these chairs allow access to walking trails, the beach (even the ocean!). As with the beach wheelchairs, a minimum of one operator is required for terrestrial, and two for water-based fun.
The use of this equipment is provided free of charge to the user, and all of these assets are invaluable in helping people with health issues and disabilities have the same opportunities to get up close and personal with nature in our parks that people with unrestricted mobility or other impairments enjoy (and let’s be honest, sometimes take for granted). All equipment is designed to easily disassemble and fit in the back of a station wagon and with the help of operators, people with disabilities can experience parks like never before.
Visitors with mobility limitations wishing to use TrailRider all-terrain wheelchairs need wheelchair operators, or volunteer Sherpas, to assist them. A Sherpa Volunteer Program provides trained chair operators to assist in pushing/pulling the visitor in the TrailRider chair on many spectacular park trails. The additional physical assistance provided by volunteers makes it possible for park visitors to access park trails that would not be possible without several chair operators.
A Walk in the Park Program
Provides group walks in parks for visitors who are blind or vision impaired. This is made possible through the provision of volunteers trained as park companions to assist visitors with park orientation, sign reading and to provide verbal descriptions of the surrounding natural environment. The program also provides organised group camps in some of our most iconic national parks. The Walk in the Park program enables participants to experience the benefits associated with visiting parks such as:
- Assisting individuals in maintaining a healthy level of fitness and general wellbeing.
- Providing an opportunity for social interaction in a park setting through the provision of trained volunteer park companions and group park visits.
- Building individual knowledge and understanding of the recreational opportunities that parks offer through participation in walks and camps in parks.
Many local community groups are also devising their own programs to support connecting people with disabilities to nature. Why not touch base with your local council to find out what might be availabel in your area, or check out some of the website links we've posted below.
Accommodation and Camping:
Some of Australia's most iconic parks are now equipped with modified cabins and all-terrain wheelchairs to make it easier for people with a disability to stay and enjoy the spectacular natural beauty of these special places. For instance, modified cabins can have entrance ramps, accessible bathrooms and parking close by to make it much easier for people with a disability, families and carers to enjoy their park stay. A personal hoist and specialised bathroom equipment, such as a shower commode chair, would also ideally be available to visitors free of charge. We’d like to see all major camping destinations with similarly-styled accommodation so that people of all abilities can enjoy a day out in the park, but also experience the excitement of spending quality time with friends and family in nature overnight.
Accessible Walking Tracks and Picnic Areas
While Trailriders and other accessible technologies can be found in many key parks these days, sometimes it's not possible to cater for everyone. Accessible walking paths allow wheelchair users to access some of our parks without getting too far off the beaten track, as it were. Many picnic areas are also take accessibility into consideration and can accommodate people with disabilities easily, including accessible toilets, etc.
Commercial Tour Operators:
One in five Australians has a disability, so it was only a matter of time before commercial tour operators started focusing on accessible tourism opportunities.
For more information on accessible tourism opportunities:
Accessible Melbourne - the first of its kind produced by Lonely Planet, with comprehensive information on accessible destinations in Melbourne and throughout Victoria.
An accessible e-brochure from Destination Gippsland providing comprehensive information on accessible locations in Gippsland, with considerable input from Parks Victoria regarding parks as well as images of the all-terrain wheelchairs.
Or why not read about the Trailrider first hand, from the man who was instrumental in bringing them to Australia, Mr Trailrider himself, David Stratton: Trailrider Tales.