Making the great outdoors accessible

Perkins staffers help Mass Audubon produce booklet with step-by-step instructions on creating accessible trails

Jerry Berrier walks through the woods with a sighted guide

Two Perkins staffers, including Jerry Berrier (left), helped the Mass Audubon “write the book” about how to make nature trails accessible to people with mobility, hearing and vision disabilities. (Photo courtesy of the Mass Audubon.)

November 8, 2016

Jerry Berrier loves the outdoors. He loves the warmth of the sun on his face, the earthy aroma of the forest and the melodic chirping of birds.

But Berrier is blind, and it can be difficult for him to find places where he can independently and safely enjoy the natural world.

So he was delighted when the Mass Audubon asked him to help produce a booklet that explains how to make nature trails accessible to people with a wide range of disabilities, including blindness.

“I think it is important for people to be connected with nature,” Berrier said. “And for people with disabilities, especially for people who are blind, it’s not all that easy to find a venue where you can be alone and spend time in natural surroundings.”

This fall, the Mass Audubon released a 70-page “All Persons Trails” booklet. The comprehensive manual explains how nature groups and government agencies can develop trails that are independently accessible to people with mobility, hearing and vision disabilities.

Berrier, who works as national deafblind equipment distribution program manager at Perkins School for the Blind, wrote a chapter for the booklet about audio tours. Available via cellphone or downloadable as a podcast, audio tours describe the trail for visitors, give details about nearby plant and animal life, and provide crucial navigation clues.

Also contributing to the “All Persons Trails” booklet was Kim Charlson, director of the Perkins Library. She wrote a chapter about developing accessible trail information – including tactile maps, large-print and braille signage, and accessible trail information booklets.

In addition, Berrier and Charlson reviewed the booklet before publication, making sure all sections were accurate and that accessibility wording was appropriate.

It was a natural collaboration, said Lucy Gertz, Mass Audubon’s statewide education projects manager, because Berrier and Charlson had previously worked with Mass Audubon to add accessibility features to 12 trails in Massachusetts. They are also collaborating on eight more accessible trails.

“I would not attempt to plan any of these next eight trails without Jerry and Kim’s involvement,” Gertz said. “They are valuable partners and together we have learned a lot about developing and operating these trails.”

The “All Persons Trails” booklet, which is available online at no cost, covers every step of the process of making trails accessible, from design and construction, to maintenance and upkeep, to inclusivity training for staff. It also stresses the importance of collaborating with people with disabilities.

The idea is to inspire other organizations to follow Mass Audubon’s commitment to accessibility, Berrier said – which would enable many more individuals with disabilities all over the country to independently enjoy the wonder and beauty of nature.

“We decided, we’ve gained enough experience doing this,” he said. “We really were pioneers – because nobody has done this sort of thing before, not to any great extent. (Now we want) to encourage other people in other places to create accessible venues.”

Mass Audubon is the state’s largest nature conservation nonprofit, protecting 36,500 acres of land. Each year, more than a half-million people visit its wildlife sanctuaries and nature centers. Mass Audubon received funding for its accessible trails initiative and the “All Persons Trails” booklet from the Institute of Museum and Library Services