Nothing about us, without us
A specialized "Access for All" advisory committee has been busy visiting Solano Land Trust properties. They are collecting data, dreaming big, and asking the question, “What is missing in our goal of providing ‘Access for All’?”
That’s a question that executive director Nicole Braddock asked herself last fall when she attended a training about accessible open spaces and heard the phrase, "nothing about us, without us." So, she formed a committee to help.
"I'm delighted by Nicole's vision," says Michael Muir, founder and director of Access Adventure, which has been providing experiential access to people with disabilities at Rush Ranch for 15 years. “She is committed to ensuring that people of all mobility levels can enjoy nature at places like Rush Ranch Open Space.”
Muir sees the opportunity for Rush Ranch to serve as a national model of accessibility for rural places.
Michael Muir greets his Stonewall Sporthorses.
Smooth sailing on trails
The advisory committee includes Wanda Williams, a Suisun City council member. Wanda is a mother of three, two of which were non-ambulatory. “I know the challenges of a caregiver whose kids were wheelchair bound,” says Wanda. “My sons were quite adventurous, but there were times they couldn’t participate because they had to go over grass or rocks.” She is participating in the committee as a legacy to her sons, who have both passed away.
Others on the eight-person committee include Muir; Judith Smith, artistic director emerita of AXIS Dance Company; Nyri Scanlon, an intern with the San Francisco Bay Natural Estuarine Research Reserve who has cerebral palsy and is working to bring disabled San Francisco State University students to Rush Ranch; and Katherine Richter, who has been legally blind since birth, serves on the Paratransit Coordinating Council and works at a call center at Travis Air Force Base.
“Since I was very young, my parents took me to parks and gardens and described my visual surroundings,” says Katherine, who appreciates the opportunity to advise on the committee. “I’d like to see Solano County do a lot more to provide accessibility of parks and natural areas.”
The committee is advising Solano Land Trust staff on upgrades to Jepson Prairie and Rush Ranch, including accessible trails and picnic areas. One important improvement concerns a redesign of picnic tables to accommodate a wheelchair in the center of the bench, and “not an afterthought at the end of the table,” says Wanda.
The trail plan at Rockville Trails Preserve includes a half-mile accessible trail that will have a smooth, flat surface, multiple resting areas, and minimal sloping. The goal is for this trail to serve as an entry point for people with varying motilities, including those pushing strollers, or for those who are just less sturdy on their feet. The committee will advise on final trail designs, construction, and even interpretive signs.
Dave and Mike Williams were adventurous souls.
“It’s a big deal when the boundaries of your life are defined by a chair and whether or not you have access” says Muir, who has lived with multiple sclerosis since the age of fifteen. “When you’re mostly in a house, a bed, and a vehicle, having exposure to the sky is a big deal. The things we’re talking about will make our lives bigger, richer, and expand our horizons.”
This work can set a precedent, says Wanda, “especially as we consider the creation of a regional park district. I would love to see that all parks and trails are accessible and inclusive for all.”
Thanks to your support, more voices are at the table as we look at the big picture of what Access for All means. Trails, birding spots, parking, educational pads, and drinking fountains are all being considered and reconsidered to work for everyone.
And the vision doesn’t stop there. Solano Land Trust wants to expand the notion of disabilities to include every kind of disability that people live with, says Muir, from urban kids to the elderly without transportation.
If you have ideas to share, or you are interested in joining the committee email Nicole. She’d love to hear from you.
Photos courtesy of Tom Muehleisen and Wanda Williams.