By: Brenda Allair, NEC Lead Educational Consultant, and Helene Gallagher, Educational Consultant
It’s summer in New England! For many families, this is a time to head to the beach or bring a picnic to the local park. Outdoor activities give children a chance to explore and discover new things about their world while also having fun. For children who are deafblind, these outdoor experiences can be even more important, helping them develop important concepts about the natural world and creating new memories with family and friends.
Each of the five states that make up our New England Consortium offer opportunities for outdoor fun that is accessible for all and often at little or no cost. The information below can be a starting point for you and your family as you begin to plan for your own outdoor summer adventures!
Connecticut – The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection works with the State Parks to ensure that all visitors have access to the recreational opportunities offered. Some state beaches in CT have beach wheelchairs available free of charge, and most state parks have accessible picnic tables. For families who enjoy hiking, the Centennial Watershed State Forest offers the Saugatuck Universal Access Trail, which overlooks the Saugatuck Reservoir. More information about these programs can be found here: CT State Park Access for Persons with Disabilities and Saugatuck Universal Access Trail
Maine – As the largest of the New England states, Maine is famous for its many outdoor recreational activities. The Maine Bureau of Parks and Land has developed a guide to accessibility that indicates how accessible each of their parks and historical sites are for families of children with disabilities. Some of Maine’s beaches offer beach or surf wheelchairs, and several state forests have trails with hardened surfaces. You can download a copy of the free accessibility guide at Guide to Accessibility in ME State Parks and Historic Sites
Massachusetts – The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Universal Access Program provides a wide range of accessible outdoor activities, including fishing, hiking, boating and many others. These programs often offer families the opportunity to use specialized equipment, such as adaptive bikes or hiking chairs and many also provide trained support staff. Massachusetts also has many accessible trails, and several beaches provide beach wheelchairs at no cost. Information about the program and links to other information on outdoor recreation in the state can be found at MA DCR Universal Access Program
New Hampshire – New Hampshire boasts the longest universally accessible trail in a mountainside environment in the United States, located at Crotched Mountain Trails. This trail winds through scenic areas and is home to some of New Hampshire’s wildlife. In addition, the NH Division of Parks and Recreation supports equal access for all visitors through Universal Access. Their website, NH State Parks Accessibility, includes information on where to find wheelchair-accessible trails, which state beaches offer beach wheelchairs, and even which state parks have accessible camping cabins.
Vermont – Vermont’s state parks often feature beautiful lakes, picnic areas, and forests. Their website, VT State Parks, includes a Park Finder feature that allows visitors to filter the parks by Universal Accessibility. The VT Disabilities, Aging & Independent Living Assistive Technology Program is committed to ensuring that all people have “equal opportunity to find joy in our pastimes”. Their website, ATP Vermont, provides an extensive list of accessible and adaptive recreational opportunities, including hiking trails and recreation groups.
Anywhere – Summer Experience Stories: Whether you explore the beach, take a hike, or have a picnic in the park this summer, you can extend the fun and create an additional learning opportunity by creating an experience story. While you are out having fun, simply collect objects, papers, or materials that you find along the way. For example, at the beach, you might find shells, sand, and a sand dollar. On a hike, you might collect a trail map, leaf, and woodchips. If you have a picnic, you could save remnants such as a plastic spoon, empty food wrapper, and popsicle stick. After your adventure, you and your child can place the collected items in sheet protector pages in a binder, plastic slide-lock bags stapled to construction paper, or use hot glue to attach to pages. Of course, you can also include photos. Add a sentence or two to describe each item collected, so family and friends can read with the child. Your finished experience book will provide your child with a personalized visual and tactile story to tell. It can be a great conversation starter for years to come. May you and your family enjoy the outdoors, create memories, and connect with others this summer. Happy exploring!