Words by Tess Becker
Nature is good for the soul. According to the American Psychological Association, exposure to nature has been linked to better mental health including reduced stress, improved attention, better mood, and even things like improved empathy and cooperation.
“There is mounting evidence, from dozens of researchers, that nature has benefits for both physical and psychological human wellbeing,” says Lisa Nisbet, PhD, a psychologist at Trent University in Ontario, Canada, who studies connectedness to nature.
“You can boost your mood just by walking in nature, even in urban nature. And the sense of connection you have with the natural world seems to contribute to happiness even when you’re not physically immersed in nature.”
The problem is that nature isn’t always accessible to everyone. People with disabilities, primarily related to mobility, may not have access to nature pathways for reasons like unlevel ground, roots sticking out, or unfinished pathways. The beach is a perfect example, where someone who uses a wheelchair has little to no access to sandy areas.
But one company is trying to make nature accessible to everyone with all-terrain wheelchairs that can withstand the elements and navigate through nature.
The organization is called All Terrain Georgia which is an initiative started by the Aimee Copeland Foundation, a non-profit focused on helping people with disabilities reconnect with themselves and the world around them in Georgia.
“Our goal is to enable people with mobility impairments to enjoy the nurturing and healing qualities that the vast natural resources of our state has to offer,” they say. “We have a vision of an inclusive Georgia where everyone has the opportunity to live and play in their own community.”
Last year, the rugged chairs, fitted with tracks instead of wheels, were made available at 11 state parks and historic sites throughout Georgia, made possible in collaboration with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
“Our mission is to provide outdoor opportunities for every Georgia citizen and visitor,” said Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites Director Jeff Cown. “I am proud to partner with the Aimee Copeland Foundation to offer access to visitors with mobility or physical disabilities.”
The whole initiative was started by Aimee Copeland, the founder of the aforementioned organization, who after a zip-lining accident, was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis – a flesh-eating, bacterial infection. As a result, she had to have her hands, right foot, and entire left leg amputated.
Before the accident, she was active and quickly became frustrated with now needing a wheelchair.
“A huge part of who I was no longer seemed accessible to me,” she said. “And I wasn’t alone. People who use wheelchairs are often separated from the outdoors due to mobility and accessibility issues.”
But she took her shifting perspective and tried to make meaningful change out of it and out came the Aimee Copeland Foundation and eventually All-Terrain Georgia.
“All Terrain Georgia is the pride and joy of Aimee Copeland Foundation,” Aimee said. “It’s been a long time coming and we’re honored to offer this life-changing program to the community.”
If you want to check out the chairs or donate to the initiative make sure to check out both websites and book a trip to some of the state parks with them available including Cloudland Canyon State Park, Red Top Mountain State Park, and many others.