Despite feeling excluded from outdoor groups and spaces for most of their life, Syren Nagakyrie has always loved nature and would spend hours in their yard just watching the birds, bugs and plants. In their late twenties, Nagakyrie started to explore outdoor recreation, but quickly realized how little information and how few resources were available to disabled people.
"I had to teach myself how to be in the outdoors, and learn what my body could do, through much trial and error," says Nagakyrie.
The benefits of being outdoors are well known, but the people who most need these benefits face the most barriers.
The final flash of inspiration occurred while on a trail in Olympic National Park in Washington state. Says Nagakyrie, "I was attempting a new segment of a familiar trail system, and immediately encountered multiple barriers that weren't listed in any of the guides that I read. I finally reached my destination exhausted and in pain, and inspiration struck." She created the Disabled Hikers website that night.
In the last three years, Nagakyrie has published multiple trail guides for disabled outdoor enthusiasts in the Pacific Northwest, California and the Midwest, and worked with larger organizations such as Olympic National Park, Washington State Parks, and the U.S. Forest Service to address accessibility and inclusion.
Their main goal, though, is to create more autonomy and self determination in the outdoors for disabled folks. "Since parks are generally required to meet ADA guidelines, most offer some wheelchair accessibility, but the quality of the facilities and trails varies a lot," say Nagakyrie. "However, when it comes to other access needs, such as materials for blind or low vision and deaf or hard of hearing people, spaces for autistic people, or detailed information for ambulatory disabled people, for example, few parks do it well."
Being outdoors reminds me that I am already a part of nature, that disability is a natural, normal experience.
They add, "The physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits of being outdoors are well known, but the people who often need these benefits the most face the most barriers. For me, getting outdoors reminds me that I am already a part of nature, that disability is a natural, normal experience and I still have value as a part of a larger whole. It gives me a place to belong even when society tells me that I don't."
Want to get involved? Head to Disabled Hikers to download a trail guide or join a group hike around the Pacific Northwest.