Accessibility in Nature
October 01, 2022
We all connect with nature in different ways—from spending a few hours a week hiking a favorite trail to studying new environmental solutions that shape the way we live. For decades, Mass Audubon has made these experiences universally accessible by providing nature-based opportunities for people of all abilities. Recently, Mass Audubon has expanded our program to include career training, volunteer programs, sensory days, and more.
When students from programs supporting individuals with intellectual or learning disabilities transition into careers, they need hands-on practice to grow their professional skill sets. During the 2021-2022 school year, more than 50 teen and young adult vocational transitional interns came to one of Mass Audubon’s nature centers to work with staff mentors on property maintenance, visitor services, education, and animal care.
At Felix Neck in Edgartown, interns maintained birdfeeders, worked on trails, and ended the year with a kayak adventure. Interns on the Joppa Flats team in Newburyport took care of the specimen tanks, developed adaptive teaching materials, and wrapped up the program with a field trip to collect some new animals for temporary stays in the saltwater tanks. The group at Ipswich River in Topsfield helped preserve 12 miles of sanctuary trails and worked to prepare and set up educational programs and events. And, the Drumlin Farm interns assisted the team at the Wildlife Care Center in Lincoln and maintained the sanctuary’s two All Persons Trails.
Inclusive Volunteer Programs
In addition to internships, adults of all ages and abilities volunteer at sanctuaries across the state. Seven Hills Foundation supports adults with disabilities and significant life challenges and brings volunteers to work in our sanctuaries. Work Inc., a service provider for adults with disabilities throughout New England, supports volunteers with litter pickup and weeding at the Boston Nature Center in Mattapan.
Sensory Days and Other Inclusive Activities
Our wildlife sanctuaries can be wonderfully busy, and sometimes noisy, places. For individuals on the autism spectrum or with other sensory-sensitive needs, these activity levels can be overwhelming.
To ease some of those factors, we offer Sensory Friendly Days at several wildlife sanctuaries. These are times to visit when the sanctuaries are closed or are usually quiet. Visitors coming on Sensory Days can join group activities, such as a naturalist-led hike or exploring on their own, with some optional activity resources available.
All Persons Trails
Mass Audubon’s nationally recognized, award-winning All Persons Trails are expanding across the state, with the most recent addition at Tidmarsh in Plymouth. In all seasons, whenever the sanctuaries are open, people are welcome to visit any of our 15 All Persons Trails. They start at the parking areas and go through a variety of natural habitats, wildlife viewing areas, specialized gardens, and vistas.
The wide ADA-compliant paths are covered with crushed stone and wooden boardwalks. Each trail has an interpretive tour available in regular print, large print, braille, and audio formats. There is also some combination of tactile signage, multi-sensory stops, multi-use seating areas, picnic areas, nature play areas, and navigational supports such as a post-and-rope guide.
While many people enjoy the trails on their own, we also use them to provide accessible, adaptive education programs and activities for individuals, families, groups, and schools.
We count on volunteers of all abilities to help us test planned trail materials, to provide input on trail conditions, and to maintain the trails and associated educational materials. We also rely on the support and generosity of many funders including the Department of Conservation and Recreation, Massachusetts Cultural Council, Alvarium Foundation, and many other donors.
For information on our accessible programs and how you can help, visit massaudubon.org/accessibility.
This article appeared in the Fall 2022 Issue of Explore, Mass Audubon's member newsletter.