Planning accessible walks
Bushwalking clubs and activity leaders should not be afraid to lead walks for people with disabilities, whether they are people with mobility restrictions, vision impairment, or intellectual disability. The key to any good hike is planning. If you or your club receive an inquiry from someone with a disability, talk to them about their needs and adjust your walk plan accordingly.
You will need to consider:
- The accessibility of the entry point to the track head.
- The condition of the track including gradient, number of steps and track surface.
- Contingency plan in case the activity needs to be curtailed or a medical evacuation is required.
- The need for helpers such as car drivers or guides for those with vision impairment.
See the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and Wildwalks websites for information on some short access-friendly walking tracks that may be suitable for wheelchair users, people with walking aids, and people with health and mobility issues.
The Naturally Accessible project aims to empower more users to get out and explore natural places. The first stage of the project is about researching the type of information that people require. For example, tracks with minimal steps are important for wheelchair users, whereas regular seating is essential for people with arthritis or respiratory conditions. In time, they want to provide users with enough information on track conditions so that users can decide for themselves what bushwalking experiences are suitable for them.
Guiding walks for people with a vision disability
Talk to the person in advance of the walk to establish their abilities and limitations and explain what they need from you. If the person has a vision disability, don’t assume they are completely blind. Ask what they can and can’t see, which side is best to guide on and “how can I best guide you?” Don’t rush the new walker, as they need to feel that they are in control in order to relax and enjoy the bushwalk.
When guiding a person with a vision disability you must walk next to the person, not in front or behind. The exception is when going through a narrow space when you must lead from the front. Never grab their arm, but instead relax your arm and the hand holding the guiding strap so that the strap is not taut, which could impede movement.
Give loud clear commands such as “ramp up, ramp down, come left, come right, uneven/rough ground, tuck in close, step up, step down, stop”. Don’t hesitate to interrupt a conversation in order to give a vital command. Only use essential commands and information about obstacles, so that the person is able to concentrate on walking. However, your companion will appreciate a description of things of interest such as flora and fauna or a stunning view.
Allow more room than usual between yourself and obstacles in case of the unexpected. If something unexpected happens say “STOP” and stop immediately in order to regain control of the situation
Approach steps at 90 degrees. Pause, but do not stop, before ascending or descending stairs at a steady pace. offering a hand rail if available. When going past low obstructions such as bollards, line the blind person up to keep going straight ahead, while you move around the obstacle. If people are impeding your progress, warn pedestrians ahead by calling “blind walker coming through.”
Ask the vision impaired walker for feedback so that you can improve your guiding skills.
For more information on guiding a person with a disability see Achilles Running Club Sydney