Connecting with nature and heritage

We know that connecting with nature is essential for our mental and physical health. The recent pandemic made that clear. Creating accessible parks and wilderness areas is more than just considering how a wheelchair user might navigate the terrain. Different people have different ways of connecting with nature that is meaningful for them.

A report for the National Trust in the UK brings together practical information about accessibility for different groups of people. The report is based on a new site acquired by the National Trust in Lincolnshire. Image is of Sandilands Beach (National Trust)

The sun is setting over the ocean at Sandilands beach where people are connecting with nature.

Age, cultural background, socioeconomic status and disability are all considered in the report’s practical considerations. The focus is on the accessibility of external spaces because the overall focus is on access to nature.

The report covers detail on the usual elements such as:

  • Easy to navigate website with relevant access information
  • Lighting around key facilities
  • Toilets that can accommodate mobility scooters and wheelchairs, and relief areas for dogs
  • Signage and maps of walks and paths
A small white dog being walked on a path at Sandilands.

Parking, transport and toilets have more detail along with paths and routes.

Paths and routes

Footway treatments are especially important as well as providing multiple paths so that visitors can choose the most suitable one. In the UK the Fieldfare Trust has a guide for different types and specifications for footpaths in different locations. They cover everything from peri-urban to wilderness. Disabled Ramblers have three categories of paths that they use to describe routes and paths.

The report goes into more detail about path surfaces, widths, gradients and accessible gates. Benches, shelters, bridges, boardwalks and viewing platforms are covered as well.

Connecting with nature

This section of the report covers the diverse range of visitors and how they best connect with nature. The section of age, covers the different needs of children, adolescents and older adults. Little is known why certain ethnic minority groups are less likely to use green spaces. However, they are more likely to use them in groups rather than alone. People with lower incomes visit green spaces less often and more needs to be done to change this.

Lack of access to transport to green space is a key barrier for people with disability. Physical barriers are also a problem but the way that service people treat them is another downside to visiting nature.

The report ends with a list of recommendations covering all the issues discussed earlier in the document. The title of the report is, Nature Connectivity and Accessibility. A report for the National Trust.

Paths for all

The Paths for All organisation in the UK has devised a guide for all types of outdoor situations. The aim is to help make outdoor places and spaces more accessible and more enjoyable for all. The guide is for anyone managing land for public access, including volunteers and recreation teams.

The Paths for All Outdoor Accessibility Guidance is a practical reference with tools and design details. It covers everything from remote paths and trails to more intensively managed parks and community spaces. The aim is to go beyond compliance using examples of good practice.

The guide is 200 pages, which indicates the number of contexts covered and the level of detail provided. The key sections are guidance for:

  • Developing an inclusive approach
  • Paths and routes
  • Facilities and activities
  • Inclusive communication
  • Review tools
Front cover of the Outdoor Accessibility Guidance showing two pictures. One is a grassed walking trail in open country.The other is a woman on a bench seat with a man sitting in a wheelchair next to her.

The Paths of All guide brings together many of the features found in other access guides. For example, ramp gradients, seating and toilets, and information materials and wayfinding. Changing Places toilets also feature. The reviewing tools are for assessing the “Access Chain”.

Each section has a box with the question, “What does inclusive practice look like?” followed by a section on design guidance with examples. Cyclists, children, birdwatchers and boating enthusiasts are thoughtfully included.

The guide is titled Outdoor Accessibility Guidance: Supporting inclusive outdoor access in the UK. The downloadable guide is 14MB. The Sensory Trust produced the guide.

Beaches and water

Australians are known for their love of beaches and water. Beach accessibility has improved greatly in recent years. Strip matting, specialist water wheelchairs and accessible change facilities have made a significant difference for wheelchair users. But beach access needs constant maintenance.

“…beach access has many more challenges due to the uncontrollable nature of the movement of sand, water and wind… storms [also] play havoc on accessible paths of travel.” Jane Bryce

A man holds the hand of a small girl as they wade into the water on the beach. Travel and tourism.

The latest access consultants association magazine, Insight, is all about beaches, water and access. The lead article by Jane Bryce looks at the damage done by storms and the erosion of once accessible beach access

Derek Mah covers the accessibility of aquatic facilities from an architect’s perspective. Access for swimming pools was first introduced in 2011. But the standard for the public domain (AS1428.1) is inadequate for ramps and stairs in pools. Mah discusses the issues of design and certification of swimming pools and some of the assistive equipment.

Shane Hryhorec provides a wheelchair user perspective. Going to the beach is not just a fun thing, it also enables social inclusion for individuals and families. Shane is the founder of Accessible Beaches Australia which has a directory of accessible beaches.

“Going to the beach is a quintessential part of the Australian way of life”, says Accessible Beaches Australia chairperson and founder, Shane Hryhorec.

A beach wheelchair at the end of matting on the beach.

Italian beach fun

For those wanting to travel there’s an extra feature on the accessible beaches in Italy. Stefano Sghinolfi is an Italian accessible tourism operator. Lots of pictures show great beaches. “To make up for the shortcomings of national policies on accessibility, there are associations and private companies. Hard work has been done by these private groups to make part of the Italian coast accessible to wheelchair users.” It’s worth noting that all accessible beaches in Italy are private.

Technical insights

As usual, Howard Moutrie adds the technical insights and background information. The purpose of this feature is to promote thought and discussion and answer members’ questions. Swimming pools are covered in the National Construction Code when it is part of another building. But there are exceptions. Swimming pools can be part of an apartment complex, an hotel, and a regular back yard. This is where it all gets tricky. Howard works his way through these in the article.

You can access the magazine online on the ACAA website where you can also download the 6.8MB PDF version or view online.

Water activity, low vision and blindness

There’s a related research paper, Practical Applications of Aquatic Physical Activity, Swimming, and Thereapy for People with Visual Impairment or Blindness.

National accessible parks policy

Accessible parks policy | NSW Environment and HeritageEveryone should have the opportunity to enjoy our national parks. The personal benefits include increased wellbeing and improved quality of life. But not everyone can access these parks. The new Accessible Parks Policy published by the New South Wales Government should go some way to addressing the barriers. 

The policy aims to provide a framework for improving access by integrating accessibility into the planning and management of parks.

But once again, we have a document professing to promote access and inclusion yet universal design is tacked on at the end as if it is an optional extra rather than an underpinning concept. 

The reference link to universal design takes you to the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland and the list of the 7 principles of universal design.  

Guiding principles

In brief, the National Parks Service recognises:

    • the health and wellbeing benefits 
    • cultural and historic heritage can present a range of barriers 
    • barriers to accessing national parks may have compounding impacts on Aboriginal people
    • disability is diverse and may not be visible to others
    • good information is critical to empowering people with disability 
    • the inclusion of people with disability in the planning and decision-making process
    • people who experience barriers to access should have the opportunity to participate in finding solutions to those barriers
    • accessible facilities or experiences in national parks are only one component of the whole visitor journey
    • it will not always be feasible to provide physical access to national parks for all people.


In brief, the National Parks Service will:

    • identify and aim to remove barriers to services, facilities and experiences 
    • identify and remove barriers to people engaging and collaborating with the management of national parks and reserves
    • engage and consult with those experiencing barriers in accessing national parks, visitor facilities and visitor experiences
    • where possible, apply the principles of universal design

The webpage has different policy sections for visitor facilities, information, collaborating, and decision making. 

Connection to Country is not included in this policy as there is a separate policy document. Perhaps as some point the Department of Planning will take a universal design approach which embraces intersectionality. That is, First Nations people also have disabilities and specific access requirements. 


Museums and universal design

The advent of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prompted museums and galleries to make their premises and exhibits accessible. But is compliance to standards, sufficient to enjoy a museum experience? The answer is probably, no. So museums need to take a universal design approach if the aim is inclusion, not just physical access.

A group of occupational therapists decided to find out the level of accessibility in museums. Was the ADA sufficient, or was a universal design approach required?

Image: Smithsonian Institute

The original Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC.  A red brick building in the centre of all the Smithsonian museums on the same site.

Participants were recruited from state and regional museum associations. Twenty-five museum associations agreed to participate. At the commencement of the survey participants were given information about the differences between the ADA standards and universal design. This was to help respondents identify if they had incorporated universal design principles and ideas into their museums.

Sixty respondents completed the survey and were asked to self-rate their museum’s accessibility on a Likert scale. Overall, they all thought they provided good accessibility, but they also reported things that needed improvement.

The article explains more about the method and questions and the successes and challenges. People with vision impairment were least likely to be accommodated. Another challenge was providing access to and within historical buildings.

The role of staff

The key component for an inclusive and accessible experience is the skills and knowledge of staff. However, few museums offered disability awareness training or consulted with members of the disability community.

Not unexpectedly, the data revealed that respondents did not know the difference between ADA compliance and universal design. They thought ramps and accessible bathrooms were universal design.

Occupational therapists can help

The article concludes with a nod to occupational therapists being in a unique position to help museums overcome challenges. They are also qualified to train museum staff on how to be inclusive in their approach to people with disability. They make a call to action for partnerships between occupational therapists and all museum stakeholders.

The title of the article is, A Survey of Universal Design at Museums: Current Industry Practice and Perceptions. It is open access.

From the abstract

Background: This study explores current industry practice and perceptions of accessibility and universal design in a small sample of American museums. Suggestions for how occupational therapists can help museums go above and beyond ADA guidelines are provided.

Method: Data were collected using a 17-item cross-sectional survey. Twenty-five museum associations assisted with recruitment.

Results: Sixty respondents participated in the survey. The key challenges were accommodations for people with vision impairment, and physical barriers in historial buildings. Confusion between ADA standards and universal design was evident in several responses.

Conclusion: The most frequently reported accessibility rating was good. Staff training and community-based partnerships were often overlooked. There is a potential role for occupational therapists to assist museums with staff training, recruiting people with disabilities, and establishing community partnerships.

Safe public spaces for girls

Public spaces aren’t equal places. That is, some people don’t feel safe or welcome in particular places. It seems this is the case for teenage girls. According to some Swedish research, public spaces aren’t used equally by girls and boys. So creating safe public spaces for girls is a challenge for urban and landscape designers. 

A night time image of a swing set comprising large rings. They are illuminated in purple and blue.
Swing Time – Höweler+Yoon. Photo by John Horner

Until the age of seven, boys and girls use public facilities, such playgrounds, on an equal basis to boys. According to a 2020 Girl Guides UK survey, 62 percent of girls aged 11-21 years said they didn’t have an outdoor sport or facility they felt safe to use. What would encourage them to go out? Safer places, less catcalling and more things to do they said. 

Teenage invaders?

Girls like to use swings but they are placed with the equipment for young children. If teenagers use them they are seen as invaders – not welcome. Branko Miletic in Architecture and Design magazine says,

“Come to think of it, teenagers are seen as invaders in most public spaces: they are too old for playgrounds, don’t have the money for malls or cafes, and also run the risk of harassment in public facilities overrun by boys and men. But they also yearn for physical activity and movement, connecting with friends, having fun conversations, walking and biking, and indulging in sports and games at their own pace, without being judged or commented upon in a public space.”

Multi-use areas such as skate parks, basketball courts and kickabout areas are designed for ‘young people’. However, boys and young men tendt to dominate these areas. Boys tend to dominate single large spaces while girls are more comfortable in broken-up spaces. In terms of seating, boys want to watch the action while girls like to face each other to talk. 

Ask the girls

The answer, of course is to involve girls in the design process. Ask them what they want in a public space. A local authority in Sweden together with architects constructed a model designed with girls. The design revealed a preference for places with colour, sitting face to face, protected from weather, and to see without necessarily being seen. 

Public spaces must cater for all ages. It’s not just about physical activity, it about social interaction and feeling safe. It would be interesting to do a similar study with older people so we can create intergenerational spaces too. 

The title of the article in Architecture and Design is, Designing safe public spaces for teenage girls.


Everyone can play more

Updates to the very successful Everyone Can Play guideline means everyone can play more. That’s because it now includes new sections on nature play, water play, and place and play. The new sections are based on the original principles, of Can I get there? Can I play? and Can I stay?

Nature play

Access to nature depends on where you live, cultural background and level of capability. Incorporating nature into playspaces offers everyone the opportunity to experience the joy an benefits it can bring. That is, regardless of age, ability, background or postcode.

Nature play spaces are usually made of natural materials such as plants, rocks, logs, sand, mulch and water.

The nature play sliding scale from one or two nature elements to a totally natural environment.

Nature play can be a playspace with simple play elements through to a natural space with minimal formal play elements. Combined with custom play equipment they give a variety of experiences. A nature playspace can even reduce ongoing maintenance costs.

Consider using flat level surfaces from decomposed granite or stone pavers. Ensure paths are free and clear of loose, natural items by providing raised and fixed edges. The guideline suggests a natural shaded clearing for a quiet space or a retreat, and place seats in strategic locations. Two case studies provide extra ideas for designers.

Water play

Access to water for play varies depending on where people live. Incorporating water into playspaces is a good way to bring the benefits of this type of play to communities.

Water play can be as elaborate as a splash park or as simple as a tap or bubbler. And water play doesn’t always mean you have to get wet.

Water play sliding scale from a tap to a full splash park.

Level access to water play activities is a must. Taps at different heights, raised troughs, easy push buttons and large levers to control or pump water are good for everyone. Water play in playspaces can provide a safer more controlled environment to interact and play with water. It also gives people access to water in area without natural bodies of water.

Place and Play

Expanding on the principles of Can I get there? Can I play? Can I stay? this document encourages people to ask:

Can I connect?

Can I discover?

Can I celebrate?

A map diagram using Aboriginal techniques and art.

Connecting with a place should always start with a local conversation to understand community dynamics and desires. Australia is home to the oldest living culture in the world and we have access to beautiful and diverse landscapes. These unique environments should foster connection, discovery and celebration.

Ongoing and early engagement with Traditional Custodians is not just a one-off engagement process. Strong relationships provide a solid foundation for ongoing guidance throughout the project.

Places can be important because of their location, their history, or how they make us feel. Acknowledging and celebrating the land we are on strengthens connection with Country. Natural materials drawn from local sources are a way of sharing local history while playing.

Everyone can play with more experiences

The three new sections of the Everyone Can Play build on the original work with three additional sections for more play experiences. You can download the sections separately from the NSW Government dedicated website.

Multi-sensory storytelling

The great thing about universal design is discovering another level of design solutions. That’s why universal design is not locked in time like a standard. Sometimes a design solution includes some assistive technology. Simulating the experiences of people with different disabilities so that people without disability can understand is not new. But the Wondrous Goggles multi-sensory storytelling design strategy is new.

A headshot of a person wearing the Wondrous Goggles.

Creating a culture of inclusion is less about designing for empathy, charity, or diversity and more about designing places that all people can use.

Various methods and technologies for simulating disability have been developed over the years. These include sight-restricting glasses, restrictive gloves and virtual reality technology. But having low vision is more than not being able to see things – it affects the way space and how things in that space are experienced as well.

In a conference paper by Janice Rieger and Marianella Chamorro-Koc, explain the multisensorial experience of the Wondrous Goggles. The goggles were an outcome of an indoor navigation project with the aim of helping museum and venue managers understand the perspective of people with limited vision.

The research project was carried out at Queensland University of Technology. The researchers realised they needed something that went beyond just replicating a type of vision loss. What was needed was a lived experience explanation to go with it. And so the Wondrous Goggles were the born.

More than virtual reality goggles

The difference between these goggles and virtual reality goggles is the audio content. The goggles immerse the wearer in a process of sensing environments differently and at the same time they listen to people with low vision explain their experience of the museum.

The title of the paper is A Multisensorial Storytelling Design Strategy to Build Empathy and a Culture of Inclusion. It’s open access on the IOS Press website. It was one of the papers presented at the UD2022 Conference in Italy. There is a short outline on Linked In as well.

This type of technology assists non disabled people to devise a more inclusive, and universally designed experience.

Tips for an inclusive museum experience

Salvador Dali is well known for his unique way of looking at the world and expressing it in his art. There are six Dali museums in the world. But how many of them are physically accessible with equal opportunity to participate? The Salvador Dali Museum in St Petersburg Florida is the subject of Jamie Mays’ case study.

Mays begins the thesis with an general introduction and a literature review of disability history and accommodations. Universal design is discussed in the context of disability and the current need to ask for accommodations. Mays draws links between Dali’s creative mind and universal design.

View of the outside of the museum showing two large blue egg shapes attached to a concrete rectangle. Together they form the shape of the building.

The museum experience is unique because it needs to consider the physical design of the gallery and how visitors will access and engage with the content.

Mays proposes a walk-through audit process which is designed as a model of continuous self-assessment within the museum. The results of the physical accessibility audit is reported in a table with comments on accessibility. It covers, entry, signage, and wheelchair access to all parts of the venue.

A second chart covers communication and information results. This is where improvements are needed. There is partial accessibility for people who are deaf or hard of hearing and for people with low vision.

Mays provides several recommendations for improvement including setting up a disability access committee.

The title of the thesis is, Salvador Dali Museum and Accessibility: Accommodation, Universal Design, and a More Inclusive Museum Experience.

The Salvador Dali Museum has a website with an accessibility tab. It lists the services available including quiet hours for people who are neurodiverse.

The Dali Museum is operating within compliance standards of accessibility. However, accessibility cannot stop at physical access. All visitors should have equal opportunity to participate in the content curated and educational experiences that museums provide.


There are centuries worth of disability history and a dozen types of institutions, activities, and policies available that could be used to conduct an analysis of accommodation, modern-day use of Universal Design (UD), and an accessible world.

This study will focus on the status of participation, accessibility, and inclusion of art and museums. Specifically, looking at The Dalí Museum which is host to a collection of permanent work by Salvador Dalí and features a special, rotating, exhibit throughout the year.

Salvador Dalí, as an artist, pushed the boundaries of art, was a leader, and major contributor to the Surrealist movement as it is known today. He was described as “genius” but, despite his contribution and talent, was ostracized by other artists in his time (Isbouts & Brown, 2021).

The study of accessibility, and inclusion, for the participation of art museums will attempt to follow the example set by Salvador Dalí: analyze what is in practice, what can be reimagined, and design an experience that provides access to the cultural information of The Dalí Museum.

Public space for everyone

Not everyone feels safe and welcome in public spaces and some of this is due to the way they are designed. Younger and older people are rarely considered or consulted about built environment decisions. However, age is just one dimension when considering inequity in public space. Disability, gender, cultural background intersect with all ages. A high density low-income area of Los Angeles was used for a study on intergenerational space for everyone.

Two figures are jogging on a path through the trees in open park.

Nearly all participants expressed enthusiasm about designing public spaces for intergenerational use and interaction.

The article describes the participatory method of focus groups, interviews and site observations. The focus on the study was three parks in the Westlake area. Older adults shared personal memories of the parks, often associated with when they first arrived in Los Angeles. Younger people remembered visiting the parks and times shared with family and friends. These happy times were not to continue, however. The parks became run-down and felt less safe and inclusive.

The research revealed that active engagement appeals to both older and younger residents. Park designers might assume that older adults prefer quieter, less active public spaces, but this ignores those who enjoy active engagement. Similarly the stereotype that younger people want activity dismisses those who want a quiet place to read.

The study is another example of participatory action research, or co-design, which is a processes for producing inclusive, universally designed public spaces.

The title of the article is, We should all feel welcome to the park”:
Intergenerational Public Space and Universal Design in Disinvested Communities.
It is open access with PDF and online access.

From the abstract

This article investigates the potential for intergenerational public space in the Westlake neighborhood of Los Angeles. We work with 43 youth and 38 older adults (over 65), to examine their public space use, experiences, and desires. We seek to identify where the two groups’ interests intersect or diverge. A series of site observations, focus groups, interviews, thick mapping, and participatory design exercises were used.

The potential for complementary approaches to creating intergenerational public space was explored using universal design. The importance of taking an intersectional approach to designing public space is emphasized. There are multiple, often overlapping identities of disability and age, in addition to race, class, and gender.

Our findings yield insights for creating more inclusive and accessible public spaces in disinvested urban neighborhoods. There are also opportunities for allyship between groups whose public space interests have been marginalized by mainstream design standards.

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