Going off the beaten path and rugged trails in our communities is now possible for many people living with a disability.
Its thanks in large part to the efforts of a Memorial researcher.
Dr. TA Loeffler, from the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation (HKR), is an avid proponent for healthy active living.
She is well-known for her mountaineering expeditions and inspiring presentations on the importance of physical activity.
For a decade, Dr. Loeffler has also been a driving force to advance inclusivity and accessibility in Newfoundland and Labrador.
She founded the Newfoundland and Labrador Outdoor Inclusion Summit, creating collaborations between organizations to further outdoor inclusion, which resulted in national parks and several municipalities installing adaptive outdoor equipment.
“This work is important to me because I believe being outside and being in nature are critical to health and well-being for all,” Dr. Loeffler told the Gazette in a recent interview.
“People living with disabilities face additional barriers in accessing the outdoors, so providing consultations, training and educating HKR students about the equipment and adaptations are all part of the puzzle and part of planting the seeds of accessibility over the past decade.”
Dr. Loeffler provided advice on adaptive equipment to the Town of Torbay when it purchased a hippocampe — an all-terrain wheelchair — and Terra Nova National Park when it was exploring the installation of another form of an all-terrain wheelchair, a GRIT Freedom Chair.
She says the equipment provides the opportunity for those living with a disability to explore hard-to-reach trails, get active and enjoy the province’s scenery.
“The GRIT chair allows users to self-propel and more actively participate out on trails,” Dr. Loeffler explained. “It has been widely adopted by parks and municipalities as one option for providing trail access. HKR brought in the first GRIT chair to the province and now I think there are at least eight.”
In several of the courses she teaches, Dr. Loeffler uses adaptive equipment at both Signal Hill and Cape Spear National Historic Sites.
“It gives the students an opportunity to re-examine a familiar landmark and landscape with a lens of accessibility. This helps build awareness of the adaptive equipment and the possibilities they provide.”
Earlier this year, Dr. Loeffler and Kim White (BA’91, B.Ed.’92), a community leader who lives with a mobility disability, published a paper about inclusion in outdoor activities.
Ms. White is executive director of the Froude Avenue Community Centre in St. John’s.
They provided advice to educators on how to develop a more inclusive teaching and learning practice.
Their paper is a duo-ethnography, which is a collaborative research methodology in which two or more researchers engage in a dialogue on their disparate histories in a given phenomenon.
‘A real gift’
The pair met several years ago and have since shared their experiences and insight with community groups and organizations throughout the province.
“Getting to experience the outdoors is essential for everyone’s well-being,” Ms. White told the Gazette.
“Sometimes it just takes something “extra” to do so. Having some of these “extras” in the form of the adaptive equipment that TA, via Memorial, has made available has been a real gift. Adaptive equipment is not widely available, often expensive and sometimes a bit scary to try on one’s own. But this is a gift of helping remove more than just the barrier to physically get outside for us folks with disabilities.
“TA’s efforts are also helping everyone to mentally get outside of their stereotypical thinking about how people can engage in the outdoor,” she continued. “What TA is doing, by linking to community via the use of the adaptive equipment and inclusive practices, is what I believe academia is really all about — going beyond theories to actively help mold new and improved realities for all.”
Dr. Loeffler says she is proud to see change within our communities and help bring further attention to diversity and inclusion.
She says it is rewarding to see various pieces of equipment used by municipalities and installed in other public settings.
“Ten years ago, we didn’t have inclusive picnic tables, mobi-mats to access beaches and adaptive outdoor equipment as widely available in the province. I’m so glad to have played a small part of spreading those seeds that are now more widely bearing fruit.”