Tagged to speak on behalf of our active seniors, I was privileged to interact with one of my favorite local TV personalities, Doug McConnell. I’ve taken many guided tours with Doug as part of trips through the Sunnyvale Senior Center, and I find him a wealth of knowledge while trying to safely explore interesting points of our state and local counties.
So, having been tagged to ask a question during the conference, you know the internet had to take a dive.
I’m going to presume it was my internet, as the show was still wonky once I gave up on the laptop and switched over to the ipad. But, like any zoom conference, I sucked it up, and we got through it, glitches and all.
I was freshly showered. The curtains were up so that people didn’t have to look at the fishing rods and background wall clutter in my bedroom… and then Daly City’s video went dark (note the green square above), and Doug’s oration began to go wonky.
I may get in trouble from the lawyer for participating in life, but the questions that I asked were important to me and hopefully others – “Where can still active but handicapped older adults go to have access to benches and open restrooms while still getting out and spending time in nature?”
I was very pleased to see that others were asking where they can go in a wheelchair or scooter if they have limited mobility and not total immobility. While the video cut out during Doug’s answer, for anyone from the bay area reading this piece, I’m happy to post a link to a local blogger who writes about this very issue:
Not being in a wheelchair, my needs are different than Mark’s, but it’s a good way to start to figure out places that I may be able to walk without too much difficulty, so long as I don’t need access to a bathroom every 30 minutes to an hour.
Here’s how Mark rates trails that he can traverse safely:
In my case, I’m trying to walk the trails, and Mark’s rating is “somewhat” helpful, but because I’m doing the actual work of walking, which is exhausting with my COPD, there are still areas of improvement needed.
In my case, any time there is a grade (that 0 to 5% incline Mark mentions in his chart is my “maximum” grade for comfort, unless my hair is on fire and I must deal with a slope). In my case, I become short of breath from the simple effort of moving my body uphill. The most gentle of slopes can cause my heart to pump like crazy, and I need to stop and catch my breath. A bench would be nice, but those are few and far between – it’s usually a mile or longer between benches. As for bathroom access – ha ! I may need a bathroom any time I exert myself, so while I need more benches, I also need more bathrooms or port-a-potties (because no one wants visitors going off trail and trying to find a convenient bush).
To compare the ratings for what the local open space authority considers “accessible”, I’ve put my rating on a few of their handicapped top 5’s that I’ve traveled on foot vs. in a wheelchair.
While I only rated three (3) trails, you can see from my comments that I disagree with most of the ratings as being too difficult for handicapped walkers vs. scooters or wheelchair access. As limited mobility walkers for handicapped advocates, we’re not going to find one size that fits all handicapped visitors, so you’re going to have to make your own ratings.
Sadly, as most open space authorities use able-bodied people as part of trying to assess what level of handicap the individual visitor may have, assessing how challenging it may be to allow someone to get out in nature without exhausting themselves from the effort of simply showing up – never mind actually trying to enjoy the trails on their own two feet – just isn’t addressed.
At the end of the day, if you are not handicapped, you most likely won’t understand the competing comorbidities and challenges that may keep folks housebound. Access to bathrooms is a key reason people don’t leave home. No place to sit and rest up is another stumbling block.
We’ve come a long way in my lifetime, but we need to do more for older Americans who are trying to stay active despite the barriers their invisible disabilities may present. One key issue: Restroom access, and the second key issue: benches for seating at quarter mile or sooner intervals. Not just “at the trail head”, and not a couple of miles in on the trail.
Having able-bodied people trying to help is a great start. Ultimately, though, we disabled people who live on the “spoon theory” for trying to have enough energy to get through the day, and who have invisible disabilities in terms of incontinence and energy levels, need to get involved to try and ensure that their local open space areas do a better job of understanding what “might” help older Americans stay active despite their invisible barriers to mobility and wellness.
REF: The spoon theory for anyone unfamiliar with that energy management tool