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‘My vision is the world is completely accessible and inclusive - every single person deserves this’

Words by Abi Scaife

Have you ever heard of hiking in a wheelchair?

It might not seem possible, but it is - at least, with the right equipment, which is pricey. Luckily, the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation is on the case - fighting to make the outdoors truly accessible for everyone.

The Outdoors for Everyone campaign is a huge investment into helping people with disabilities - particularly spinal injuries - to access the environment around us. It’s not about editing the whole world for accessibility but making small, important changes that open up an incredible experience for everyone.

“We've made about a $2 million investment through 116 grants, and that's to national parks, state parks, and a number of different areas,” says Mark Bogosian, who is the Director of Engagement at the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. “It could be for accessible trails in the parks and botanical gardens, accessible beaches … we want to make sure that once people are there, they're participating in and part of their community.”

Mark Bogosian

Mark spoke with Smiley News about how and why the Reeve Foundation decided to launch the Outdoors for Everyone campaign - and how access to the environment is so important. 

“Nature has obstacles, right? But some of these are preventable obstacles,” says Mark. “We can look at ‘is the trail wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair? What's the slope? How can we make it so that a wheelchair or a walker can be on there and have people be able to use it?’”

Sometimes the changes are nothing more than supplying the outdoor areas with wheelchairs that can cope with the terrain - sometimes it involves widening a path. That’s also much more ordinary, yet still important, ways of making the areas more accessible, including adjusting the website or parking facilities.

“Research shows that by being outdoors, we're mentally healthier, physically healthier, spiritually healthier. We really benefit just from being out there,” says Mark. “We have colleagues who, although they're in a chair, they may not physically be touching the ground [but] they feel it, they experience it - it's a very different and wonderful experience for so many people.”

According to Mind, spending time in nature can help improve your mood, reduce feelings of stress or anger - and even boost your self-esteem.

Entrance to Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum

Smiley News also had the privilege of speaking to TJ Griffin, who works with people who have been recently disabled at the Reeve Foundation.

“33 years ago on October 19th 1990, I broke my neck, playing high school football, my senior year. It was a great hit, though. I went out in style!” laughs TJ. As a result of the accident, TJ was left a C5/C6 quadriplegic - meaning he uses a wheelchair.

TJ can’t over-hype how important it is for him that people with disabilities are able to access the environment. For him, getting out in his chair to exercise his dogs is key to his mental health, especially during the COVID-19 lockdowns when he, like many of us, was isolated.

“My favourite thing was going in the woods every day, and I remember being in that hospital bed when I first got injured thinking ‘I’ll never do that again’,” remembers TJ. “I can do that now we're making roads for me to get out and go explore places that I thought I would never get to see.”

TJ Griffin 11

In his job with the Reeve Foundation, TJ spends much of his days talking to people who are disabled, or have a loved one who is. It’s his job to comfort and encourage, as well as reassure them that this doesn’t mean the end - that there is still so much life to live, and so much to explore, and it’s programmes like Outdoors for Everyone that mean he can do that.

“It's really fulfilling. At least once or twice a week I get someone on the phone [who] starts crying saying ‘You mean my son or my husband or my wife, can have a life?’”

The work performed by the Reeve Foundation and their Outdoors for Everyone initiative is key in bringing us all together, to open up this incredible world to those who need it most. You may not be able to bring a mountain to Moses but, thanks to this project, Moses might finally be able to get up the mountain.

TJ Griffin 4

“[It’s] about inclusivity and understanding that we are sitting down but we want to do everything that everyone else does, and there's no reason why we can’t,” says TJ. “We'll figure this out together if you are willing to try with us.”

The funding, guidance and support from the Outdoors for Everyone initiative is bringing us one incredible step closer to an accessible, inclusive world - not just a world where people can survive, but one where they can thrive.

“Wouldn't it be wonderful if this wasn't something that people had to think about?” wonders Mark. “If it was just something that existed because, collectively, we all agreed that this is the right thing to do. My vision is the world is completely accessible and inclusive because every single person deserves this.”

Charity check-in 

At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.

Sense. Sense helps thousands of people who have complex disabilities to communicate, experience the world and fulfil their potential. Learn more here.

Scope. Scope is the disability equality charity in England and Wales, providing practical information and emotional support when it's most needed, campaigning to create a fairer society. Support them here.

Disability Rights UK. Disability Rights UK is the UK’s leading organisation led by, run by, and working for disabled people. Find out more.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Reduced Inequalities.

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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