Accessible Birding

While some nature reserves are sensitive to the needs of some disabled people many are either inaccessible or only address for some mobility issues. Very few have thought through the needs of all disabled birders. Moreover, there is still a tendency to make the assumption that disability access and wheelchair access are one and the same.

Clearly there is a need to make hides and paths accessible to people who use wheelchairs… indeed it would be a great start, but this would still not help many people whose mobility is limited, nor those who have problems with sight, hearing etc. Until quite recently no organisation existed to focus on these problems and bring some pressure and information to bear.

I have a vested interest having suffered from arthritis for nearly 50 years. A condition that always makes walking a problem and can, at times, very severely limit the distance I can walk. A little thought at many reserves, parks and other public spaces would make a huge difference to me and, obviously, a great many other people.

The needs of the wild world must come first of course, but that aside a little effort could make many places much more accessible than they are, to very many more, indeed the majority of, people. Such improved physical access needs to be combined with greater sensitivity by all birders to those with special needs. The last thing any disabled person wants is to feel singled out for special treatment. I know of one birder who has great pain when walking who does not take advantage of a policy at a RSPB reserve which would make his birding a much more comfortable experience. He could drive the mile between the car park and the first hide – he does not because he prefers the pain to the other alternatives which are the accusing and disapproving looks of birders who walk the mile or the patronising smiles of those who realise that it is not idleness but disability that allows someone to drive there.

Our society, particularly the commercial part of it, tends to cater for the average rather than the range of people who make it up. Such narrow perspectives make life difficult for the majority not just minorities. For example, the majority of people need ramps and wide door access into public buildings but the average person can cope with steps and a narrow entry. The majority is made up of disabled people, overweight people, elderly people, young people, pram pushing parents etc. Why is it that the tall, able-bodied, slim male has everything designed for him? Could it simply be because he is the designer! Even now most reserve staff are fit young men who are unaware of how the provision they make matches their physique.

So, disability access is an issue that calls for societal change. Society and its provision is the problem, not the person with a hearing aid, wheelchair, crutches, walking stick or a white stick. After all, if we settled for the average provision in all things most of us would look bizarre; wearing size 12 dresses and size 6 shoes, and this would be the men as well! (Incidentally, even dress makers are behind the trend always offering more size 10 or 12 than all the rest put together whereas the average British woman is a size 14!) Our watchword is ‘Barrier Free Access’. The fact is that good design is no more or less expensive than poor design and good design allows more use of provision. Moreover, there is NOTHING that improves access to people with mobility issues, that makes access or use worse for fully able-bodied people!

Birding For All (see above) was set up to combat poor attitudes and provision across the board. It exists to encourage everyone to think about what can be achieved with sensitivity and good design, often for the same money than current provision if it is thought about at the outset. It is not just about reserve paths and the design of hides and their access. Optics manufacturers need to think about spectacle wearers, tour companies need to think about whether the hotels they use offer accessible facilities for people who need to use wheelchairs, the list is endless.

Consider, for example, (and it is a real example) the reserve manager who has laid level paths with even dry surfaces so that wheelchair users can get around and has then fitted a narrow kissing gate at the beginning of the path! Consider that too the many hides up and down the country that have a ramp up to them but no viewing slot at a suitable height for someone using a wheelchair. Consider above all the terrible standard design of hides that cause the majority of people to come away with a crick in the neck or aching back because the average has been applied to the height of viewing slots and benches rather than a range of heights.

I urge everyone, disabled or able bodied to visit the Birding For All website and join up (for free). After all few birders will remain as mobile in their sixties and seventies as they were in their twenties and thirties. Most of us age, get sick, have accidents or have children, our needs change throughout our lives so making provision accessible for all will help every one of us! Help make birding truly accessible to all.Bo Beolens – aka The Fat Birder; Founder – Birding For All

  • Birding For All (formerly the Disabled Birders Association)

    The dba started in April 2000, but that date should not lead anyone to believe that the organisation is not serious. As nothing like it seemes to have existed anywhere it is an international association and, whilst the UK chapter has most members, we invite mebership from aoll over the world and would like to see chapters getting together wherever there are birders with special needs. In 2011 we changed our name to 'Birding For All' to better carry our message of inclusivity
Forums & Mailing Lists
  • BirdingForAll

    This is a mailing list for members of the Birding For All. To join the dba visit our website at:
Places to Stay
  • England - Dorset - Holton Lee

    …empowering and resourcing people, particularly carers and those with disabilities, through creativity, environmental awareness, personal and spiritual growth. I have visited the site and there is an accessible hide overlooking Poole harbour near Arne - Fatbirder.
Other Links
  • *Birding For All

    Facebook Page
  • *Birding For All

    The dba started in April 2000, but that date should not lead anyone to believe that the organisation is not serious. As nothing like it seemes to have existed anywhere it is an international association and, whilst the UK chapter has most members, we invite mebership from aoll over the world and would like to see chapters getting together wherever there are birders with special needs. In 2011 we changed our name to 'Birding For All' to better carry our message of inclusivity…
  • Accessible Journeys

    Since 1985, our only job has been designing accessible holidays and escorting groups on accessible vacations exclusively for slow walkers, wheelchair travelers, their families and their friends
  • Bird Therapy

    I’m currently in the process of collecting research and putting together my writing into something coherent, preferably a book, that will be titled ‘Bird Therapy’. Within Bird Therapy I will share my positive experiences of birding and how it has positively benefited my mental health and the experiences and opinions of other people.
  • Birding & Beyond

    At first, I was just a birder and nature lover but mostly a birder, locally in Essex but also around the country then some Twitching. Now I want to pass on my love, passion and knowledge to everyone who wants to join me. Young and old alike, novice to experienced. Please check out my latest birding bus "Milomobile" I have this 5 seater VW Caddy with mobility access specifically with the lowered height floor to accomadate a wheel chair so mobility impaired nature lovers can see everything from their chair.
  • Fieldsman Trails Access Consultancy

    Fieldsman offers a range of flexible access services. Access is not just a physical thing relating to door widths and gradients but also relates to sensory needs and interpretation. We have responded to access issues for many clients across a wide spectrum of activities including: Live Commentary for events and processions, especially for visually impaired people. Audio Described Theatre. Guided Tours to interpret Museums. Access Audits of Public Buildings. Design Solutions to Access Problems. Audio Cassette Guides - Voice Trails. Tactile Maps. Design of Sensory Gardens. Guided Walks using Tour Guide System. Reminiscence Trails - Smells of the Past in a Bottle. Disability Discrimination Act Consultancy. Garden Design.
  • Independent Living Research Utilization - US

    The ILRU (Independent Living Research Utilization) program is a national center for information, training, research, and technical assistance in independent living. Its goal is to expand the body of knowledge in independent living and to improve utilization of results of research programs and demonstration projects in this field. It is a program of TIRR (The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research); a nationally recognized medical rehabilitation facility for persons with disabilities.
  • Tours - UK Holidays for all

    If you are disabled, an older person or carer, Holiday Care can help you take a break. We have information on hundreds of accessible hotels and visitor attractions in the UK and a range of information sheets on overseas destinations.
  • Waveney Stardust - adapted Norfolk Broads boat

    Waveney Stardust is a specially adapted broads motor cruiser designed to offer people, who would not otherwise be able to use a traditional boat, the opportunity to use the Norfolk and Suffolk waterways. We offer trips along the river Waveney from Beccles to Oulton Broad, and from Norwich, South Walsham and Stalham. See venues page for more details
  • Birding Without Barriers

    I'm a "beginning birder", but long time Arizonan and outdoor enthusiast. Been wheelin' it for over twenty years, and on occasion, even wing'd it (that's a whole other blog). I'm fascinated by birds, and anything else that flies. This blog is to share my experiences as I explore Arizona, looking for great, accessible, birding hot spots
  • Birding on wheels

    Hi, welcome to Birding on Wheels; a blog looking for other disabled Birders

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