The accessible outdoors

The Accessible Outdoors – Inclusive Outdoor Options to Enjoy


Many people don’t think twice before heading outdoors; they just grab water or sunscreen, or essential supplies for a longer trip. There is freedom to casually going out for a picnic, taking a stroll, or going for a run. However, due to lack of accessibility and accommodations, not everyone can enjoy the outdoors with such ease. 


Global social distancing measures due to COVID-19 have resulted in restrictions and precautions that feel new to many, but pretty standard to others who have never been able to take a simple or spontaneous jaunt out of the house. Now, with the strictest guidance applied to indoor gatherings, outdoor activities have seen a sharp increase in popularity as an escape during these difficult times. If you are one who regularly enjoys the outdoors, have you ever stopped to think about who might be excluded? 


Next time you go out, take a look around your neighborhood, your park, your playground, or elsewhere, to see how accessible an activity or area might be, and consider ways to improve the situation for others. Most people are familiar with accessible parking and sidewalk curb-cuts, but accommodations can extend much further to allow people to enjoy the experience of being outdoors to a greater extent.


Below are just a few of the accessible features you might identify or advocate for in outdoor spaces. But be creative, there are many more features that could be utilized to optimize the experience for all. 


Accessible Parks and Trails

  • Accessible bathrooms, seating, and water fountains

  • Trail options with flat or gradual inclines that are paved, wide and obstacle-free for wheelchairs, walkers, strollers, and more

  • Shade options for breaks or for people with light sensitivity or other sensory considerations

  • A view or feature that can be experienced and enjoyed by people with varied abilities

  • Guide ropes, tactile features, and braille signage

  • Auditory guides 


Accessible Beaches and Waterfronts

  • Paved pathways

  • Wide-wheeled, motorized beach wheelchairs for traversing sand

  • Floating beach wheelchairs for sand and surf

  • Portable roll-out mats to allow access for wheelchairs, strollers, and other wheeled accessories

  • Guide ropes, tactile features, and braille signage

  • Accessible bathrooms, seating, and water fountains

  • Visible or vibrating warning systems 

  • Accommodations for service animals including water, shade, and relief areas


Accessible Playgrounds

  • Play areas that are reachable by ramps, curb cuts, handrails, etc.

  • Navigable spaces and pathways that allow children to move from feature to feature (for example, from the bottom of the slide back to the top)

  • Inclusive play equipment such as accessible swings 

  • Quiet spaces for children who are easily overwhelmed

  • Surfacing that supports varying ranges of mobility and assistive equipment

  • Cognitive and sensory options (not just physical play)

  • Activity panels with braille

  • Non-segregated spaces where children of all abilities can interact safely


Accessible Neighborhoods

  • Wide, level, & unobstructed sidewalks

  • Curb cuts at every intersection, in each direction

  • Tactile paving as wide as the walkway or ramp

  • Pedestrian islands and designated crosswalks

  • Multi-sensory crossing signals

  • Available and accessible public transit options

  • Benches and sheltered seating

  • Reduced speed zones

  • Consistently placed, high-contrast, tactile paving

  • Frequent and clear signage that includes Braille


What can I do to help?


The greatest thing a person can do to promote accessibility is to speak up! Use email, phone calls, or social media to connect with decision-makers, whether they are business owners, community advocates, or government officials. Research your area’s options for campaigning for inclusive accommodations, which may include collecting signatures to show support or gathering usage data to share with officials.  Make the case for the financial impact of inclusion. Show decision-makers that access matters.


Another effective and simple way to promote accessibility is to use the Ability App. By rating the accessibility of various locations, you can show others what is available in a new area or one they haven’t felt comfortable visiting. 


To learn more about accessibility and the app, visit

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