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This Summer, Let’s Make Water Activities in the Outdoors More Accessible

Every outdoor lover knows the benefits of spending time outside. But for people living with paralysis and other disabilities, it can be challenging to access outdoor spaces like parks, hiking trails, beaches, and lakes. The most “preventable barrier” to outdoor and water recreation is the lack of readily available information about an outdoor location. This is why the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation continuously advocates for change and provides the necessary resources to educate the community and key organizations.

This summer, the Reeve Foundation is expanding its initiative to tackle accessibility issues specific to outdoor water-based activities. Outdoors for Everyone works to break down barriers and foster an accessible and inclusive environment in which individuals who are living with or impacted by paralysis can enjoy outdoor activities.

The initiative provides essential resources for the disability community, recreation professionals, and decision-makers in coastal communities. It also seeks to educate the public about the preventable limitations of outdoor activities, aiming to make experiences more accessible this summer and beyond.

Sponsored by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation

outdoors for everyone
Image courtesy of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation

Why Water Accessibility?

As the temperatures rise, millions across the nation will flock to their local beaches, rivers, and lakes. Able-bodied people tend to think nothing of the rocky or sandy terrains that can overshadow the wondrous beauty of these places to a person in a wheelchair. In fact, for those in a wheelchair (or for those pushing a wheelchair), these terrains can be challenging, if not impossible to navigate.And it’s not just the terrain that often makes these areas inaccessible; there can be physical hazards as well. When going outside, understanding seasonal risks and secondary conditions needs to be top of mind for members of the community. Secondary conditions for those living with paralysis can impact the body’s ability to regulate temperature, which can lead to risk of heat exhaustion, and overexposure to the sun can be hazardous for sunburns, causing pressure wounds and infections.

However, there are measures that those managing outdoor-recreation areas can take to address challenges like these. As part of its 2024 initiative, the Reeve Foundation has created a new vital resource, a Water Accessibility Checklist, to help ensure people living with disabilities can enjoy outdoor spaces near water.

“As we enter the summer months, we’re thrilled to broaden the Reeve Foundation’s ‘Outdoors for Everyone’ initiative to include water accessibility,” says Dan McNeal, Director of the Quality of Life Grants Program, Reeve Foundation. “Our goal is to educate the community and cultivate accessible environments where every individual can experience water-based activities.”

From accessible kayaking and adaptive water sports to simply enjoying a beautiful day at the shore, McNeal says everyone should be able to partake in the joys of summer. 

The ‘Outdoors for Everyone’ Initiative

Launched in September 2023, the pilot of the Outdoors for Everyone initiative aimed to help make the great outdoors more inclusive, particularly for those living with paralysis, along with their families and caregivers. Following the initial launch, the Reeve Foundation continues to advocate for the community and has been working closely with outdoor organizations and other stakeholders to address these issues by providing free resources and other education tools.

“Accessing the great outdoors can pose challenges for those living with paralysis and other disabilities, as nature often conflicts with accessibility,” said Mark Bogosian, Director of Engagement at the Reeve Foundation. “The ‘Outdoors for Everyone’ initiative was created to provide essential resources and support, making it possible for all to enjoy the beauty of nature, which is crucial for mental and physical well-being. By collaborating with parks and outdoor recreation organizations, we hope to empower everyone to spend more time outdoors.” 

With the extension on water accessibility this summer, the Reeve Foundation aims to help more people enjoy water activities.

outdoors for everyone
Image courtesy of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation

About the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation

The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation is dedicated to curing spinal cord injury by funding innovative research and improving the quality of life for individuals and families impacted by paralysis. Part of its mission is addressing these “preventable limitations” that keep people affected by paralysis from going outdoors.

Accessing water is particularly tricky for those affected by paralysis, but the Reeve Foundation believes making tools available and targeting its education efforts will make an important difference in the paralysis community’s outdoor experience.

Water-Accessibility Resources and Partners

To help ensure everyone can join in the fun this summer, the Reeve Foundation is offering resources with water-accessibility tips that also raise awareness about opportunities for inclusive water recreation across the United States. These resources include a Water Accessibility Checklist, access to a team of Information Specialists, and an online Resource Map.

Water Accessibility Checklist

The new Water Accessibility Checklist includes recommendations and tips for beaches, pools, and other water organizations to ensure people living with disabilities can enjoy these spaces with their friends and families. From providing wheelchair-specific training to lifeguards to having the appropriate equipment onsite, there are many ways to make water activities more enjoyable for all, and this educational resource can help facility managers take important steps toward better accessibility.

Information Specialists

The Reeve Foundation’s team of Information Specialists is a critical part of the Outdoors for Everyone initiative. As many individuals are planning outdoor trips and vacations this summer, these highly trained specialists can help locate the nearest accessible pool, beach, and other accessible water programs. Additionally, these specialists are also there to help individuals and their families impacted by paralysis navigate the short and long-term challenges of living with paralysis with information and resources.

Information Specialists are available Monday through Friday from 7 AM to 12 AM ET. Users can also schedule a call, leave a message after hours, or submit a question in writing.

Resource Map

The Resource Map is an online tool that helps users find accessible resources, equipment, and programs near them. Users can search by city, state, or zip code.

Partnerships

The Reeve Foundation acknowledges that collaborations and partnerships are fundamental to the success of the Outdoors for Everyone initiative. The foundation works closely with others who share a similar vision. 2024 partners include:

Outdoors for everyone
Image courtesy of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation

Summer Fun for Everyone

Everyone who wants to enjoy the great outdoors should be able to—whether that person is looking to experience the peace and serenity nature can provide or the fun and adventure outdoor recreation can offer. The Reeve Foundation is doing important work through its Outdoors for Everyone initiative by taking steps to make the outdoors more accessible to people of all abilities.

By adding resources specific to water access and water activities, the Reeve Foundation will help make a trip to the beach or lake possible for more individuals who are living with or impacted by paralysis. Even basic things like providing accessibility information can make a difference. Why wouldn’t communities want to come together to make one part of these individuals’ lives a little easier?

For more information, visit ChristopherReeve.org or call the Reeve Foundation’s Information Specialists at 1-800-539-7309.

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