Outdoor Education Accessibility Recommendations
It is important to provide detailed information about the trip in the course advertisement and include an accommodation statement recognizing that students with diverse learning styles and physical abilities or other health considerations are welcome. It is especially important to encourage students to approach the professor or trip leader as soon as possible with any concerns or accommodation requests to allow for preparation before the trip begins. Accommodations can vary greatly depending on the individual, therefore a discussion with the student(s) directly can be the most useful in determining how to best accommodate their needs.
Condition Specific Recommendations
Type 1 Diabetes
A student with Type 1 Diabetes on a canoe trip, for example, may have difficulty managing their glucose levels during periods of physical exercise or irregular meal times. Preparing for this trip with an emergency sugar supply, a hygienic storage and disposal plan for syringes, and activity scheduled with hydration and snack breaks can help make this type of trip safer and more accessible for the student.
Epileptic episodes can be triggered by excessive tiredness, lack of sleep, irregular meals (hypoglaecemia), increased stress, heat or humidity, irregular schedules (resulting in missed medication), and emotions such as anger, worry or fear. All of these triggers may be present in an outdoor learning environment and can be addressed by: designating a recovery time and place when on site, creating a buddy system, ensuring medications are taken prior to activity, considering the safety of locations, and understanding individual triggers.
A student with asthma who may be engaged in physical activity at a higher intensity than they are accustomed to when kayaking or canoeing for example may not have immediate access to medication or an inhaler. Similar to preparing for any other physical activity, medication should be administered prior to activity and a proper warm up should be provided. Understanding of the student’s activity tolerance and developing a signal for when they do not feel well and need assistance should be part of trip planning. Fluids consumed at cold temperatures can sometimes trigger asthma symptoms therefore drinks should be kept at room temperature which can be achieved through insulated water bottles.
For students who are visually impaired the common emphasis on the visual over other senses or other ways of knowing during outdoor learning experiences can be addressed by creating a more multi-sensory approach which may involve exploration of the sounds, smells, tastes and touch characteristics of different environments. Other strategies include verbalization of strokes, commands, surrounding scenery, or environment, pairing with a sighted person over difficult terrain, and stringing ropes to different areas around camp. In a survey response of a UK fieldwork course where students had visual impairments, instructors reported the following accommodations that were made: Taped material and enlarged photocopies of diagrams, student pairings with others who understood their limitations and could assist with escorting them across difficult terrain (Hall & Healy, 2004).
Barriers to outdoor learning experiences for students with a hearing impairment include a lack of available amplification systems, increased background noise, and decreased visibility. Having lanterns at night so speakers can be seen when communicating orally, using a circle when meeting in groups, and making auditory cues or instructions visible (e.g., flashing a light or waving a flag) are strategies to make trips safer and more accessible for these students. Teaching can be adapted by using visual aids or demonstration during instruction and having a pen and paper available for communication.
An unfamiliar environment away from usual social and professional support along with challenging physical and social/group tasks can be barriers to individuals with mental health challenges. Involving the individual(s) in goal setting, knowing their strengths and limitations, and setting frequent milestones or achievements are general ways to assist in supporting the mental health of participants. Many of these mental health challenges can also affect cognitive function, therefore writing things down to assist with memory, minimizing distractions, modifying activities to match competency level, encouraging mastery, and using smaller groups can be strategies to accommodate these cognitive changes.
Mobility impairments can be varied and often require individualized adaptations to allow for full participation. Beyond the physical inaccessibility of some outdoor spaces or environments, increased physical strain, transportation, and inclement weather can be a barrier for students with mobility impairments. Consulting with the student regarding their individual needs is the most effective strategy in determining what accommodations are needed. Accommodations can include scheduled washroom breaks, a portable commode on site, support persons, or arranging for accessible sleeping accommodations. In a survey of UK fieldwork courses, instructors of one fieldwork course reported two students with wheelchairs attended and student helpers were used, their own accessible vehicles were used to travel to the site, accessible accommodation centres were chosen that could house the group, and some routes were altered to allow for full participation. In addition to these adaptations, mobility impairments may require equipment or other physical resources for the student(s). Below is a list of equipment and resources available in Ontario that can be used to acquire equipment or help guide adaptations for individual needs during outdoor programming.
The TrailRider is a one-wheeled adapted wheelchair for individuals with mobility impairments. This device requires two “Sherpas”, one in front and one behind. It is frequently used for navigating more difficult or inaccessible terrain, including many mountain hikes. Trail Riders are available for rental or loan through the “Take a Hike” initiative introduced by the Sam Sullivan Disability Foundation in BC.
The Tetra Society is a group of volunteer engineers who design and construct customized assistive devices for people with specific needs that cannot be met by commercial products. Devices are created for the cost of materials only. A catalogue of devices created in the past can be found on their website. Examples of past projects and devices created that assist in outdoor recreation include custom climbing hand splints used by a quadriplegic rock climber, adaptive dragon boat seating, kayak and kayak paddle adaptations for individuals with upper body mobility impairments, and a multi-use sit-ski plus sit-ski adaptations.
The Para-nordic Committee provides rentals of cross country sit-skis in Ontario for $150 for the season or sit-ski loans on an as needed basis for the cost of shipping. They also provide free sit-ski training camp days/try-it events in Ontario. Contact information for the Ontario representative can be found on their site, which is the first point of contact for any questions regarding rentals or training events.
CRIS is a non-profit organization that uses adaptive equipment to enable individuals of all abilities to interact with the outdoors. Although not yet available for rent in Ontario, this organization provides examples of adaptive equipment used in a variety of settings. Adaptive equipment they have used includes tandem recumbent bikes, sit skis, sleighs for travel when snowshoeing, outriggers for kayaks, seating adaptations, and wheelchair accessories.