A newly published paper penned by Dr. TA Loeffler and Kim White shares stories about inclusion in outdoor activities.
It also provides pointers for educators on how to develop a more inclusive teaching and learning practice.
The paper is a duoethnography, defined as a collaborative research methodology in which two or more researchers engage in a dialogue on their disparate histories in a given phenomenon.
The research project dates back six years ago to a conversation Dr. Loeffler, a professor in outdoor recreation at the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation, had with Dr. Heather Carnahan, the school’s dean at the time.
There was a budgetary surplus; Dr. Loeffler suggested purchasing a TrailRider, a device used for individuals with disabilities to use to explore rugged terrains.
After purchasing the TrailRider, Dr. Loeffler reached out to Ms. White, an individual with a physical disability, to ask if she’d test it out.
“… no matter what, we all have so much to add.”
It was the first of many adventures together.
“That conversation was a major spark that jump-started this line of pedagogy at Memorial,” Dr. Loeffler explained.
There were other such sparks along the way. When working for Wilderness Inquiry in Minnesota, Dr. Loeffler’s tent mate, who’d had a stroke, coached her on how to prepare for her upcoming PhD comprehensive examinations.
“It showed me that no matter what, we all have so much to add. I always kept in mind that I wanted to bring outdoor accessibility into my courses and teaching. I brought an accessibility lens with me, but it took the right causes and conditions to bring that lens to greater fruition.”
Fast forward to 2019 when Dr. Loeffler and Ms. White submitted a proposal to present at an outdoor education and experiential learning conference in Ireland.
The pair was accepted and spent nine months examining how they live, play and work in the same spaces.
“Working on the paper with TA and now having people’s reaction to it has solidified my belief that sharing the adventures we have taken together shows others that with the right people, the right equipment and the right attitude, there really are endless possibilities for adapting activities for anyone (and everyone) facing barriers to getting outdoors and getting active,” said Ms. White. “And, it very clearly shows that everyone deserves opportunities to do both.”
For Dr. Loeffler, the research was an eye-opening experience, but one that was also filled with deep self-reflection.
“I read a large amount of literature new to me on the methodology of disability studies,” she said. “I had to stare my ableism in the face, and at the same time I had to bear witness to Kim being on the receiving end of ableism while we were out together.”
Dr. Loeffler describes ableism as “unnecessary divides.”
She recalls an experience when she was leading a paddling event; participants who were disabled were required to sign a specific section of a waiver.
“The waiver made it sound as though people with disabilities were at higher risk — the risks were the same for all participants,” she said. “I see so many divides like that waiver every day, whether it be not being able to access a building or not being able to ride public transportation.”
She says that once she opened her eyes to those divides, she saw them everywhere and researches and teaches about dismantling them.
Through this process, Dr. Loeffler has brought additional pieces of accessible outdoors equipment to Memorial.
“There are many oppressions that create barriers and privilege.”
She is also developing two new courses: one on the therapeutic use of the outdoors and the other on diversity and inclusion.
“I do try to teach my students through a broad lens of accessibility,” she said. “What I mean by that is there are many oppressions that create barriers and privilege, and that many folks struggle to access the outdoors. In my courses we discuss how to dismantle the systems as well as how to adapt activities to create access.”
For her efforts towards inclusion, Dr. Loeffler was named the 2021 recipient of Recreation Newfoundland and Labrador’s Bridging the Gap Award, which is presented to an individual, group, program or facility that has furthered the inclusion of persons with disabilities within the areas of recreation, sport and active living.
She says the recognition would not have been possible without partnering with Ms. White.
“The rewards are so rich and deep. As the saying goes, a mind stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions. My mind, and therefore my students’ minds, are definitely stretched through this work. I’m thankful to Kim and to all the participants that I’ve worked with for their gracious mentorship.”
To read the full paper, visit here.