By Mia Steben
Western’s Outdoor Center is making changes.
With only one piece of accessible equipment, staff members are sparking conversation about how to make their programs more accessible for differently-abled students.
They want to incorporate more adaptive equipment into the outdoor activities and experiences they provide for students, senior Kelly Oberbillig, marketing resources coordinator for the Outdoor Center, said.
Oberbillig said she hopes she can start a dialogue about the limitations on access to outdoor activities for those who have disabilities.
“There’s so much we can do as an organization,” Oberbillig said. “If we can just help to shift the perspectives of people in their everyday lives and how they interact with people with disabilities and how they perceive their limitations, that’s a step in the right direction.”
Spokesperson Danielle Watson spoke at an Outdoor Center event at Western, detailing her experience with a disability. Watson sustained severe injuries in an accident, which left her paraplegic.
After her accident, Watson said she was able to become an active rock climber and distance cycler. With her new perspective on accessibility, she said she discovered the importance and value of outdoor accessibility.
Watson said she was able to participate in adaptive sports, activities that are slightly altered to allow individuals with disabilities to participate.
“Adaptive sports kept me going and was a major part of my recovery,” Watson said.
As a graduate student, Watson said she assumed the school wouldn’t have any activities she would be able to participate in, so she never explored options.
Watson has worked to encourage institutions like Western to inform students with disabilities about the opportunities and accommodations they have available.
Watson said it isn’t always easy to speak about accessibility issues. She said she always has to advocate for herself.
“Anything that people can do when they notice if something is not accessible is to say something,” Watson said. “It really helps.”
She said adding accessible equipment to the center’s inventory won’t be cheap, but it would be a huge step up.
“It is expensive to get hand cycles and skis, but wow… it would be so crucial to that population,” Watson said.
Oberbillig said there are a lot of people who are passionate about getting an accessibility movement started.
“That’s an area of opportunity where, if we continue conversations in the following years, we can see real change,” she said.
Oberbillig said she was also hopeful about a program happening at Lakewood.
Frederick Collins, assistant director for the outdoor recreation, said he has several steps to help bring accessibility at Lakewood.
“Adaptive sports kept me going and was a major part of my recovery,”
He said that the Disability Office helped with the purchase of a hand cycle. This equipment allows individuals to utilize their arms instead of their legs.
Collins said they are looking into parking access that meets the Americans with Disability Act requirements at Lakewood and working with the manager to install a lift that would help people get in and out of the water.
“We’re willing to meet, talk, buy and do whatever people want us to do because that’s our goal,” Collins said. “[We want] to make sure that this new department of outdoor recreation under me is as equitable and open as it can be.”
The Outdoor Center can help facilitate the needs of students, but it cannot be done without a conversation and advocacy, Oberbillig said.
“It’s really the power of student voices,” Oberbillig said.
Collins encouraged an open flow of communication between the center and the administration.
“If people need help from us, they are going to get it,” he said. “Come in, tell us what you want, tell us what you don’t want and let’s talk.”