Power To Be and CAN share insights into outdoor adventures at MEC Outdoor Nation

When you explore your local park, venture down a hiking trail or paddle along a shoreline, have you ever asked yourself “who is missing from the outdoor spaces we love the most?”

That is the question we recently explored at 2018 MEC Outdoor Nation. In partnership with Canucks Autism Network (CAN), Power To Be co-facilitated a workshop exploring how we can provide support and opportunities for individuals to access the outdoors regardless of barrier or disability.

We’re excited to share the concept of universal design in the context of outdoor recreation – how outdoor facilitators or enthusiasts can set up activities and environments in a way that allowed everyone to participate. Check out four simple but powerful tips to making nature more inclusive.

Frontload your information

Frontloading means providing people with information up front, before the activity, about what to expect. While some people may be open to, and even enjoy surprises that is not true for everyone.

When it comes to stress, there’s a concept called a ‘window of tolerance.’ Some of us can handle a bit of surprise and it helps us grow, while others just can’t. When the stress is beyond what a person can tolerate, they shut down or just never show up in the first place.

Having information available in advance really helps a lot of people feel calmer and more prepared. Those with a diagnosis of autism really appreciate this level of inclusion: schedules of activities, pictures of the space, or even websites they can look at to visualize what is about to happen.

Consider your built environment

Built environment can refer to both the facility or location of your program and the activity or equipment used.

It’s important to focus on the participant’s abilities rather than a disability. This can help you visualize a space or an activity with a completely different appreciation. This may include communication with a participant to get a better understanding of their abilities or sometimes utilizing other pieces of equipment can help adapt the built environment to ensure it’s accessible for all participants.

Clarify your communication

Communication can be a challenge for a number of reasons. One key accessibility feature to consider is sign language interpreters, where required. Make sure you ask these questions on program registration forms or of the people you are adventuring with more casually.

Another communication barrier may include attention span and executive functioning skills, which can have a major impact on a person’s ability to take in instructions and learn. Communicating in a way that all learners can engage includes three key ideas:

Include an interest and build rapport to increase engagement. Find out what interests a person and help make the connections to the new activity.

Keep it visual. Consider using visual aids or stories to help people visualize what will happen.

Give bite-sized chunks and keep it active.

Broaden your perspective

Working with others to explore and create adventures is a great way to ensure inclusive experiences. Bringing together people with diverse backgrounds and skillsets and talking to participants about their interests and support needs in advance are two ways to ensure your program, trip or micro adventures are inclusive. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other organizations in your community to learn about what they do and how you can collaborate.

Together with CAN, we’ve only scratched the surface of inclusion in the outdoors, however these tips can make a huge difference in accessibility for a lot of people. Everyone belongs in nature, and with the right supports people of all abilities can join the adventure.

 – Shared by Jenna Wright, Program Facilitator