PwD in Canadian Parks


Bringing the woods to all

Posted By Hamish MacLean

Posted 4 hours ago

A Kananaskis Country outreach coordinator is being honoured in Calgary this week for his work on getting more people into parks.

Don Carruthers Den Hoed is not helping to bring just anyone in though, his work brings in people who otherwise might not be able to experience Alberta Parks.

Carruthers Den Hoed will receive a Premier's Council Award of Excellence in Public Awareness Dec. 3, (International Day of Persons with Disabilities) for his work on Alberta Parks' two-year Push To Open initiative. He said he viewed this award as a chance to continue to make more people aware of provincial parks efforts to make parks more open. The theme of Alberta Parks' inclusion strategy is "Everyone belongs outside."

"Getting diverse groups involved in parks is making our parks experience better," Carruthers Den Hoed said.

Carruthers Den Hoed has been involved with Alberta Parks for almost 17 seasons, but has been in the outreach position for two-and-a-half years.

His role provincially is to create an inclusive parks system, one in which all marginalized groups can participate in -- a new priority for Alberta Parks.

"What's great about it is that we've got encouragement to develop things locally and regionally, which can then be transferred to a broader picture," he said. "Because you can't really be inclusive from a head office in Edmonton.

"So we've got really good support from the province to take the lead down here."

And as far as removing barriers goes, Alberta is already doing quite well, but the goal though, the outreach coordinator for Kananaskis Country said, is not to remove all barriers. Now, one tool that Carruthers Den Hoed is using is an audit kit developed for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics that ensures that new barriers are not built.

"You can't make everything barrier free and in fact people with disabilities don't want us to," he said. "They want it to be natural, but they don't want us to do something dumb like put in a set of steps when we don't have to."

But the audits, and making small fixes makes more time for Tourism, Parks and Recreation workers to get to more places and the important changes can now happen more readily.

"The whole idea in the provincial parks system, and what's in our inclusion strategy, is you make sure we have a diverse set of universally accessible experiences," Carruthers Den Hoed said. "So not every single alpine meadow, but at least one of them; not every single mountain waterfall, but at least one of them; not every single grassland, but at least one of them -- so everybody has universal inclusion."

The Premier's Council sponsored Carruthers Den Hoed's graduate work; his master's thesis on educational contexts, completed in 2007, included the first inclusion strategy for Parks. That strategy now has evolved into a larger inclusion strategy with a fleshed out suite of initiatives, of which Push to Open is one.

The new comprehensive strategy, he said, is making Alberta Parks a leader in the world.

His work focuses on improving access and inclusion in Parks.

Alberta Parks' strategy is not just about access, he said. It's about connection to nature.

"It's always going to be a challenge to get people into the back country," he said. "But it's not a challenge to get people to think that's a good idea."

And there is a variety of equipment being used in Kananaskis Country to get more people into parks.

Mount Lorette Pond is a barrier-free fishing pond in Kananaskis Country, there's William Watson Lodge in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, a barrier-free overnight facility, there's Allen Bill Pond in the Elbow Valley, that has just been re-vitalized with barrier free trails and there's Elbow Falls.

One impact of being a part of the programs he runs which gets individuals beyond these starting points for Parks experiences is that he has changed his outlook on what his work means.

Carruthers Den Hoed said he has now come to view himself as a "TAB" or temporarily able-bodied person.

There are times in everyone's life, he said, when we face barriers.

"This is about me," he said. "It's not just about the 12 or 13 per cent of people who technically have a permanent disability, it's actually everyone of us who will face a barrier."

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