While February’s cold snap had many folks huddled in the warmth of indoors, it presented my family with an opportunity we had been anticipating since the start of winter: an accessible hike with our daughter, Kathleen. On Family Day, we headed to the Lower Don River Trail in Toronto with Kathleen’s all-terrain wheelchair (ATW) to explore the Don Valley’s snow-covered nature.
The conditions along the trail were perfect. The ATW, which we had fitted with skis, was easy to push on the packed snow; Kathleen, her Dad and I enjoyed the calming effect of the nature around us while we trekked along the trail.
We purchased the ATW three years ago to enable us to enjoy family hikes year-round. Until then, Kathleen, who is fully dependent on a wheelchair, was forced to spend much of the winter indoors, as traversing snow-covered paths in her standard wheelchair was impossible. The increased freedom to explore nature has been especially welcome this winter because the pandemic-related lockdown of Toronto has severely curtailed our family outings to indoor destinations such as the Ontario Science Centre and the Royal Ontario Museum.
Despite Kathleen’s mobility challenges, we know we are fortunate. We have resources – a wheelchair-accessible vehicle and the ATW – that many Ontarians with disabilities lack. With careful planning we are able to take Kathleen on winter hikes to dispel some of the cabin fever she experiences when colder temperatures and shorter days force her to spend more time indoors. These excursions also help her Dad and I get some much-needed fresh air and exercise.
For people with a disability living in an urban centre, a city park can be a hiking destination that doesn’t require specialized equipment, even in winter. One week after our outing to the Lower Don River Trail, my family and I visited E.T. Seton Park, which is located in North York, next to the Ontario Science Centre. We had brought Kathleen’s ATW in anticipation of a snow-covered path, but when we arrived, we discovered that the path had been plowed. We were able to walk through the park with Kathleen in her standard wheelchair and listen to the cardinals and robins that twittered from the trees lining the route.
Winter still presents challenges to getting Kathleen outdoors, but thanks to her all-terrain wheelchair, we can now experience nature in winter as a family. Everyone should be able to equally benefit from spending time in nature. If you or someone you know is experiencing accessibility challenges, visit Birdability to find resources and guidance documents that could help in overcoming some of these barriers.
Lisa Richardson is Ontario Nature's Nature Network and Communications Coordinator and ON Nature Associate Editor. In her spare time, Lisa enjoys camping and exploring nature with her husband and daughter.