December 3rd is the annual International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Over 61 million adults in the United States live with a disability (CDC). Whether visible or invisible, these disabilities impact the daily lives of 26% of all US adults. This day serves to celebrate the lives of those with disabilities, while also drawing attention to our societal need to create a more inclusive and accessible world for all.

While the outdoors can be a place of rest, respite, and joy for many, these benefits are not accessible to all to the same extent. Physical, structural, operational barriers and more can limit opportunities for those with disabilities to partake in the outdoors. Ableism is defined as the discrimination or prejudice against individuals with disabilities. Ableism can be experienced as more overt discrimination as well as systemic obstacles and oversight.

There are many opportunities for outdoor recreation areas to go beyond the minimum standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a law enacted in 1991 to ensure certain standards for accessible design, among other provisions that exist on both state and federal levels. Being inclusive of not only the needs of those with physical disabilities, but also those with cognitive or learning differences who may experience the world in another way, can result in creative and engaging solutions. The Chesapeake Bay Program highlights on example of this inclusive design thinking used in the creation of the All Sensory Trail at Patapsco Valley State Park in their article, “All Sensory Trail makes for a more accessible park”

To learn more about accessibility and disability in the outdoors, check out the following articles and resources: 

Wheelchair Accessible Adventures – Find Your Chesapeake 

Web Accessibility Toolkit – A resource to educate and inform web content creators about best practices for accessible digital design

Disability Visibility Project – An online community dedicated to creating, sharing, and amplifying disability media and culture