The camera follows Alex, a park visitor using a wheelchair as he explores Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (SEKI). He shares the fact that public transit in his hometown isn’t accessible, so the ease, friendliness and safety of the Sequoia shuttle system is meaningful. Alex is a nature lover but after his spinal injury visiting wild places became a challenge. He is struck by the wide, flat trails and accessible beauty.
We are allowed this personal glimpse into Alex’s experiences, thanks to an innovative accessibility film project in SEKI. Park Visual Information Specialists Erika Williams and Christie Hendrix sought to properly advertise the park’s recent accessibility upgrades to the disability community. An unexpected audience turned out to be the park staff, some of whom had worked on the projects, but found themselves “blown away” to see what an impact the upgrades made on visitors’ experiences.
Erika took inspiration from an Eppley Foundations of Accessibility certificate program and had a vision of bringing people with disabilities to the park to create a series of video-recorded, first-hand accounts. Grant funding from the Jeangerard Family Foundation became available through the parks’ nonprofit partner, the Sequoia Parks Conservancy. She contacted the local Independent Learning Center (ILC) of Kern County to build a partnership. Erika and Christie were delighted to discover the ILC jumped on the opportunity to offer training for the park, as well as consultation, advertisement, and support in finding and funding participants for the film.
Also, the grant allowed for a professional videographer, Brian Petersen, who was able to create high-quality productions. The team made the series an audience centered experience by inviting the visitors with disabilities to speak for themselves.
As Erika emphasized, visitors with disabilities “have a legitimacy that park employees may never have…hiring people with disabilities may take time, but we can jump ahead by letting a wide range of visitors tell their stories in their own words.”
Erika and Christie encountered a variety of challenges. There was a learning curve to arrange suitable transportation to the park and support the visitors in driving in winter weather. Similarly, they didn’t know they needed to account for caregivers’ arrangements (logistically and financially). Most surprisingly, they discovered it was difficult to get accessibility information on the hotels. In fact, someone eventually had to measure the height of a bed to ensure it would be workable. Ultimately, each hurdle became a chance to better understand the experience of and barriers for their audience.
Christie acknowledged, “I thought I was ‘woke’ with my own family member with disabilities, but this widened my own understanding of not just one group, but many groups.”
The project is a powerful model of the 21st century competencies of Designing Visitor Experiences and Building Audience and Community. It gave the team a real-world understanding of what it takes to personally relate to the needs of, and build relations with, an underrepresented community.
Christie shared, “I think about new groups we haven’t previously thought about, like visitors with hidden disabilities. It is always in the back of my mind.”
Erika emphasized that even small improvements are greatly appreciated by underserved communities, “We take a lot for granted and we don’t realize how powerful these experiences can be. Minor changes can make a world of difference…It is such a small thing we can do.”
If you have a successful virtual program you would like to have featured in the series of articles written by the PWR Relevancy Team or have questions about this article, please contact Kara Stella, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contribute to the 2022 Checklist of Best Practices for IE&V
The Relevancy Team of Region 8, 9, 10 & 12 is compiling a checklist of best practices of virtual programming for IE&V, and we would like your input. If you have an example of a virtual project that exemplifies interpretive best practices, email Lou Salas Sian at email@example.com.
- Can you find an example of another of the 21st century interpretation competencies that was addressed through the accessibility video project?
- What audiences have you not yet considered in your interpretation and outreach and how might you reach them?
- How do visitors with disabilities utilize and experience your park and interpretive programs?
- In what ways could your park improve the experience and access for visitors with disabilities (staff training, physical access, community outreach, etc.)?
- In what ways might you partner with other divisions to provide better access to the disability community?