KARS-ON-THE-RIDEAU, Dec. 2, 2021 – You’ve heard it before: to understand a person, you must walk a mile in their shoes.
A local Cub Scouts pack did just that recently when they walked – and rolled – in the shoes of people with disabilities at Baxter Conservation Area south of Manotick.
Gathered at the trailhead on Nov. 7, each young hiker from the 1st Greely Cubs was assigned equipment to simulate a physical limitation: taped goggles for vision loss, noise-cancelling headphones for hearing impairment, thick gloves for dexterity limitations and wheelchairs and crutches for mobility issues.
The goal was to attempt their regular hike and activities while experiencing the barriers people with physical disabilities face every day.
“I planned each part purposely so they would feel frustrated and upset, and fully experience the many accessibility barriers built into the world around them,” said Scouter Tara Charron, whose sons are part of the group. She said it was the most tangible way to demonstrate the challenge of living in a world that is not accessible to you.
And it was tangible, alright: a wheelchair user got stuck in the mud, those with limited vision fell off the side of the boardwalk and those with limited hearing missed instructions for most of the activities along the hike.
Charron was surprised by their reactions: rather than sticking with their buddies or asking for help, many withdrew quickly and became unusually quiet. Some were visibly frustrated. But the 8- to 10-year-olds put the pieces together quickly.
“I was very impressed by how quickly they got it,” Charron said. “They were able to just understand that this should be designed for everybody. I was really proud of my Cubs.”
The hike was in support of an ongoing capital project to transform Baxter into Eastern Ontario’s most inclusive nature destination. Work is already underway to bring the gold standard of accessibility features to Baxter’s boardwalks and marshland bridge, which are being rebuilt with extra-wide decks, accessible sightlines and large, barrier-free learning platforms.
The Greely Cubs spent their next meeting discussing the hike and designing fundraising signs for the Baxter project to post around the community. The kids also plan to sell hot chocolate at the park this winter to help with fundraising efforts. The Baxter project will cost an estimated $1 million or more to complete.
Called Nature For All, the project is spearheaded by former world ski champ Mike Nemesvary, who frequently visits Baxter in his power wheelchair and long dreamed of creating a more inclusive park for people with disabilities. He partnered with the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority and the Rideau Valley Conservation Foundation to make his vision a reality.