Accessible Birding

©Birding For All Website
For the ‘Hard of Walking’

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 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 do so 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 own 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 aid 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 watchwords are ‘Barrier Free Access’ and ‘diversity’. 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 as 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 more 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 goes on.

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, let alone different height viewing slots and benches for us diverse users.

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.

Consider this a baby may weigh six pounds. An adult could easily weigh 200 pounds. Would it be sensible to offer them both the ‘average’ sized pants? One size does NOT fit all! It’s just a lazy formula that suits few.

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

Useful Information
  • A Movement to Make Birding More Inclusive and Accessible

    Rose, a Travis Audubon board member, recently held her own birdathon to raise awareness about Birdability, her new initiative to get more mobility-impaired people birding. Photo: Mike Fernandez.
  • Advice for disabled birdwatchers

    Birdwatching is a pastime that can be enjoyed by everyone. These pages give some practical advice to disabled birdwatchers and tell you where to get more information.
  • Birding on Wheels Maps

    As you view a map, click on a parking lot or other location and then click on “driving directions.” Enter your starting address to get a personal map. Good birding!
  • Euan's Guide

    The RSPB website and Birding for All both have useful information for disabled birdwatchers, including tips about equipment and finding the right binoculars. If you want to explore beyond the places mentioned here, you can read more disabled access reviews and listings on Euan’s Guide under Gardens, Nature and Open Spaces.
  • BirdAbility

    Birdability works to ensure the birding community and the outdoors are welcoming, inclusive, safe and accessible for everybody. We focus on people with mobility challenges, blindness or low vision, chronic illness, intellectual or developmental disabilities, mental illness, and those who are neurodivergent, deaf or hard of hearing or who have other health concerns. In addition to current birders, we strive to introduce birding to people with disabilities and other health concerns who are not yet birders so they too can experience the joys of birding.
  • 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
Guides & Tour Operators
  • 2by2 Holidays

    Wheelchair Accessible Safari Holidays
  • Accessible Birdwatching Holidays

    Below you’ll find a great selection of holiday destinations across the UK, close to nature reserves or renowned as great places for all things ornithological. We’ve also highlighted accessible accommodation in these beautiful locations that are specifically described as being ideal for those who enjoy birdsong and birdwatching.
  • Tourism For All

    Whether you are an individual or an organisation, join Tourism for All and help us to make accessible tourism and travel better!
  • Waveney Stardust - adapted Norfolk

    Boat Tour
    Waveney Stardust, founded in 1988, is a registered charity. 2019 will be our 27th year operating accessible cruising facilities for people who could not otherwise enjoy the beauty and wonder of the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads.
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 was created to promote universal access to all facilities, services and resources for bird watchers.
  • *Birding For All

    The charity was set up in April 2000 as the Disabled Birders Association by Bo Beolens, an ordinary birder with a minor disability. Since then it has grown into an international organisation with over 1000 members.
  • Bird Watching for the Disabled

    Being temporarily dependent on a wheelchair for going any distance and committed to leading a bird walk , I wondered how I would handle the situation.
  • BirdAbility on Twitter

    VIRGINIA ROSE, initiated #Birdability on birding and getting mobility-challenged people out into the parks and enjoying nature, by way of birding and in turn, to make birding more accessible
  • Birding for Birders with Limited Mobility

    Enter ‘Bird Watching’ into Google and in less than a second, there are 18 million hits. Enter ‘Bird Watching for the disabled’ and it seems there is nothing of consequence, no up- to-date organization, just a handful of specific places or holidays.
  • Disabled Birding Tours

    Having organized and sometimes guided disabled birding trips for well over a decade I’d like to shares a few thoughts on the problems and pitfalls and how to avoid them.
  • 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.
  • Legally Blind Birding

    Birding despite disability...
  • 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
  • Birdability - Virginia Rose

    Hi! My name is Virginia Rose. I am a paraplegic and have used a manual wheelchair for 45 years. I have been an avid birdwatcher for about 15 years now. I joined Travis Audubon, (TAS), and co-led the beginning bird walks once a month for 7 years. I am now on the board of directors for TAS. I have identified many wheelchair accessible parks in central Austin over the years and am interested in helping mobility-challenged folks get outside and experience nature. So many people with disabilities do not realize how much they can do outside!
  • Birding Without Barriers

    In search of accessible birding in Arizona.
  • Birding on Wheels

    Hi, welcome to Birding on Wheels; a blog used in my quest to find the best places in Ireland, to watch birds from a wheelchair.

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