API Summer 2021

At Irvine Ranch Outdoor Education Center, ramp access and larger platforms welcome those who use wheelchairs or have mobility considerations.

U N I V E R S A L D E S I G N

ACCESS FOR ALL

BY CARLA HACKER AND MELANIE WILLS, Experiential Systems, Inc.

Becoming more universal in facilities and mindset provides tools to serve broader markets.

Photo credit: Aerial Designs/Experiential Systems

As opportunities continue to expand in aerial adventure parks, zip line tours, and traditional challenge course programming, we should broaden the scope of populations that we serve. Including people of a variety of experiences, backgrounds, and abilities is key to capturing a growing market of diverse outdoor participants. It’s time to build spaces where all feel engaged and able to participate. It’s time, in other words, for universal design. The inclusion of any individual who chooses to participate in the experience, at whatever level they desire, touch- es the heart of universal accessibility. Creating a sense of welcome, training all staff to be comfortable working with all participants, providing the necessary equipment for adaptations, and main- taining a facility that is accessible to all are central to the concept. A Brief History of Inclusion At the time challenge courses were first developed, little thought was given to creating opportunities for all abilities. (Neither were sidewalks built with curb cuts at intersections, nor public bathrooms designed to accommodate

a wheelchair.) Since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1992, though, much has changed for individuals with disabilities. Time for change. Inclusion is becoming more the norm than the exception when it comes to recreation. Individuals with disabilities are demanding adaptations that allow them to paddle, ski, cycle, rock climb, and more. Opportunities are ex- panding across the recreational spectrum. However, the challenge course, aerial adventure park, and zip line industry has been slow to adapt. And, in cases where accessible elements have been designed and built, they are not neces- sarily challenging for all. It need not be so. The adapted sports world offers specialized equipment and equity in access. The canopy zip line industry even has supportive harnesses and rigging systems naturally designed for people with disabilities, although they may not be labeled as such. It’s time to move forward on universal access in the climbing world, particu- larly on challenge courses and in aerial adventure parks. The information is out there, the desire to climb is present.

Some have already started down this road by designing specialty training, re- designing courses, or building new cours- es with access and inclusion in mind.

How Universal Design Applies Universal design implies products and environments usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. In a universal approach, all individuals are offered a range of equip- ment and means of access. Participants can choose their gear and path. There are seven principles of universal design, as defined by The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. You can use them to determine how your organization stacks up—and identify ways to start changing. 1. Equitable use: design is identical or equivalent for use by all. 2. Flexibility in use: provides for a range of preferences and abilities. 3. Simple and intuitive use: easy for participants to understand. 4. Perceptible information: communi- cates information effectively for clear understanding. 5. Tolerance for error: minimizes conse-

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