In 2016 the national census showed that 13.5% of the Irish population were living with a disability. Guidance is provided by The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (including the issue of acces), also called the CRPD, which was adopted by the United Nations in 2006 and ratified by the Irish Government in March 2018. The CRPD provides the framework to promote, protect and ensure the rights of all people with disabilities.
The CRPD considers that “disability is an evolving concept” and that “disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”.
Ireland is renowned for its natural beauty, incredible landscapes, and breathtaking coastlines. Given the nature and locations of the Irish landscape, which is often rugged and remote, accessing the great outdoors and engaging in outdoor pursuits can present many challenges, particularly for people who may have a range of disabilities. Trails can range from smooth pathways in public parks to rugged routes across open countryside, in mountainous areas or through forests. Some environments can be welcoming and easy to traverse while others can present challenges for the visitor, particularly for people who have a disability.
From talking to fellow peers, one of the main reason people with disabilities don’t participate in outdoor pursuits is not their disability, it’s the lack of access. Provide parking, changing places, and trained on-site staff is needed!
Accessibility can be built into the design and management of trails, greenways and public parks including any facilities such as picnic areas and playgrounds that are provided on-site. Access through entrance and exit points should be as easy as possible for everyone including people with limited strength and restricted manual dexterity. All gates/gaps should be sufficiently wide to allow a person using a wheelchair/mobility scooter to easily gain entry to a trail.
All beaches can present challenges for visitors. The accessibility of any beach can vary, particularly for visitors who have a disability. People who have sensory or cognitive impairments can experience difficulty with wayfinding and people who are wheelchair users or who have a mobility impairment find movement on sandy surfaces difficult or even impossible.
Accessibility can be incorporated into the design and management of beach landscapes including any on-site facilities such as parking, pathways and boardwalks leading to and around the beach and its environs. Many beaches are developed and include man-made infrastructure such as lifeguard posts, changing rooms, showers, parking etc. Wild or undiscovered beaches tend not to have such facilities and are valued for their untouched beauty and preserved nature. Consideration is being made nowadays for the provision and use of accessible walkways onto the beach created with roll-out mats such as Mobi-Mats and the provision of Beach Access Buggies that can be provided on-site.
The Irish Wheelchair Association’s Sports Department in conjunction with Sport Ireland developed the concept of designing and delivering outdoor access guidelines that could be used by various organisations, that provide and manage facilities within the Great Outdoors. The Guidelines are funded by the Dormant Accounts funding stream 2017. The Great Outdoors – A guide for accessibility aims to provide organisations and land managers with relevant guidance and information relating to accessible design, in order to make their specific environments more available and accessible for people with a disability.
The guide can also act as a support for future service planning and in many instances can combine with an annual service plan on improving accessibility within the outdoor environment. By following these guidelines it is anticipated that there will be a significant increase in the opportunities for people with disabilities who wish to become involved and active in outdoor locations and activities.
Within this guide, a Universal Design approach is typically understood as addressing specific access considerations within the named environments under a number of headings including; 1) Physical access to any designed and built environment including within natural outdoor locations. Considerations include access to entrance points, car parks, on-site transport shuttles, adventure centre activities, accessible WC’s, access to tracks and trails and to facilities that connect environments and activities. 2) Access to facilities and activities provided, including day-to-day location and equipment management and maintenance. 3) Access to information including information displayed in both hard and soft copy text, on display boards, on waymarking/wayfinding signage and including face-to-face and remotely spoken communications. 4) Access to any supports required to participate in an on-site activity. 5) Disability Awareness whereby staff have the opportunity to regularly upskill in order to improve their awareness of practical ways to accommodate and promote the participation of people with a disability. 6) Consultation with the end user/s and their representative group
Too often people with disabilities are excluded from participating in activities in the outdoor environment because of the lack of accessible amenities or the absence of disability awareness amongst service providers. An urgency exists in Ireland to review the outdoor environment and to strategically plan how adaptations can be incorporated into nature’s design to accommodate people with disabilities and their right to exercise, socialise and enjoy the many benefits that being in the outdoors has to offer. Through reasonable accommodations and modifications, people with disabilities could exercise their human rights on an equal basis with others. Governments and Service Providers (The Parties) should take appropriate measures to enable persons with disabilities to participate on an equal basis with others in recreational, leisure and sporting activities by encouraging and promoting participation, encouraging the provision of appropriate instruction, training and resources, as well as ensuring access to venues, activities and services.