Reserves for Every Body
Reserves strive to be places where everybody can experience “wild” places on the coast and learn about nature. Yet while most of the land protected by the Reserve System is open to the public, those with disabilities often experience unique challenges to experiencing these environments.
Sebastian Mejia and Jennifer Bucheit are working to change that at the Old Woman Creek Reserve by joining forces with the Erie County Board of Developmental Disabilities, which supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Together, the board and the Reserve are offering a monthly program, inviting adults receiving services from the Erie County Board of Developmental Disabilities to explore the many activities Old Woman Creek has to offer.
“People with disabilities face a lot of the same challenges anyone else might when interacting with nature,” says Jennifer Yingling, self-advocacy advisor at the board, “but there are other barriers as well, including reading signage and information, accessibility, weather concerns, and cost. Working with the Reserve has helped folks address a lot of these common concerns and barriers by learning directly from the experts.”
Each class includes a nature-inspired project and a hike. Participants learned to prep for winter hikes, experienced animal encounters, made gifts from natural materials, created oil swirl postcards, and wrote about their hiking discoveries. They will also be invited to participate in events like wildlife trivia, clover paintings and a search for all things green at the Reserve on Saint Patrick’s Day, and an Art in the Park event where participants will make beach glass wind chimes.
Oil swirl postcard inspired by a hike through Old Woman Creek.
“A common theme when people walk Reserve trails has been awe,” says Mejia. “We are trying to find ways to accommodate that learning and engagement wherever folks might be.”
Mejia and Bucheit are thankful for the support they’ve received from the board and the participants of the programs. “They advocate for themselves, speak with local groups about meeting their needs, and engage the community,” says Mejia. “They’re helping us, rather than the other way around.”
The series has provided an opportunity for Mejia and Bucheit to better understand the challenges people with disabilities face when interacting with nature, and each experience advances them to their end goal: improving the Reserve’s accessibility.
“The Reserve is able to build relationships with those who are attending and identify and begin to anticipate barriers.” says Yingling. “This gives them ideas and feedback for accessibility improvements.”
In support of that, their view of accessibility has expanded to include those who can’t physically make it to the Reserve and might benefit from online programs and opportunities. They are also exploring how to make community science more accessible. Sometimes this means having people set up rain gauges where they are, giving them an accessible way to participate in science and a fun excuse to get outside.
“In the past, we thought about getting groups to the physical Reserve,” says Bucheit, “but sometimes accessibility means bringing science to where people already are.”