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Progressive Access for Trails and Programs

Most of the work undertaken to date to improve access to parks and preserves for people with disabilities has focused on assuring that the design of trails and related infrastructure is aligned with federal guidelines derived from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). While these efforts have been invaluable in helping reconnect populations with more significant levels of physical disability and sensory impairments to nature, there is a growing awareness that a much larger population facing other barriers faces significant challenges accessing the outdoors. This population ranges from people with developmental disabilities and related conditions like Autism Spectrum Disorder, to those recovering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and to those struggling simply to overcome the normal effects of aging. Helping these populations requires that we consider more than just the physical characteristics of trails. We have to also begin to understand the challenges faced by different kinds of users, groups they belong to, their communities and the kinds of programs and partnerships we must create with schools, hospitals, and other community-based organizations to help people take full advantage of the trail systems which we create.