Living with disabilities

Quick Summary

When people with disabilities don’t participate in outdoor activities, it is often due to a lack of access, not lack of interest. Learn more about efforts to make camping, hiking and outdoor adventures more accessible in Oregon.

Welcome back to West Livaudais, who was our first guest for the Place Matters Oregon blog. West is the executive director for Oregon Spinal Cord Injury Connection. Joining us is Erin Taylor, program coordinator for United Spinal Association.

PMO: West, thank you so much for being eager to return as a guest for our Place Matters Oregon (PMO) blog. The world has continued to change so much since last year, but in other respects, it’s remarkable how many things are still so tough as the pandemic continues. We appreciate you being with us to talk about several new efforts to make access to healthy choices easier for people living with disabilities.

First let’s turn to something that many people are doing this fall—enjoying Oregon’s spectacular parks system. We understand you’ve been working with the Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation (OPRD) to make camping, hiking and outdoor adventures more accessible in Oregon for people with disabilities. Tell us what “adaptive camping” is.

West: Thanks for having me back! I think it’s good for people to know that enthusiasm for the outdoors is alive and well in the disability community. Lack of participation is not because of a lack of interest, it’s due to a lack of access. When we talk about adaptive equipment for outdoor recreation, we’re referring to things like handcycles for bicycling or kayaks that have outriggers to make it easier for people with disabilities to use them. There is a long way to go, but we’ve been pleased by how welcoming and engaged park rangers and the folks at OPRD have been to make state parks and campsites easier to navigate by removing barriers.

But adaptive infrastructure isn’t enough—we need “wraparound” programs as well. Let me give you an example—adaptive handcycles or adaptive kayaks are great, but wraparound programming allows participants to store their wheelchairs safely while they’re using the adaptive rec equipment or it can help folks transfer onto or into the equipment, and/or transfer the equipment from one place to another. We need well-funded adaptive recreation programming alongside welcoming, accessible parks.

Two men use action track chairs on the Oregon coast. Photo credit: Gary Peterson


In terms of camping, there is little guidance from ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and so Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation has had to learn from the disability community about what works best. Campability program participants have offered guidance to OPRD as they work to make Oregon parks more accessible and inclusive, some of which is embedded in OPRD’s new ADA Transition Plan.

PMO: Thank you for those examples. They nicely illustrate some of the different solutions to help people living with disabilities enjoy the outdoors. What have you been working on with OPRD?

West: While we all appreciate Oregon’s beauty, the majority of our state’s camping facilities and outdoor recreation programs are not designed to accommodate people with disabilities. Over the last two years, Oregon Spinal Cord Injury Connection has teamed with Adventures Without Limits, Oregon Health and Outdoor Initiative, and OPRD to improve access to state parks and Oregon’s natural spaces. This program has supported inclusive changes in state parks to build an innovative, accessible picnic table that accommodates multiple wheelchair users, install power wheelchair charging stations, make inclusive changes to bathrooms, install access to water, and in general, make campsites and trails all more accessible. As a result, Oregon state parks are on their way to becoming more welcoming for everyone. Oregon Spinal Cord Injury Connection has additional information on adaptive camping.

PMO: Thank you for sharing this encouraging news as we all enjoy getting outdoors. Now we have a question for Erin Taylor—Erin, we understand you have been in contact with the Disability Equity Center (DEC) in Corvallis. Tell us what this center does.

Erin: DEC is an organization built on disability culture, pride and a fierce determination to make the world equitable for everyone. DEC brings disabled people from the margins of society to the center and offers a safe space for coalition, community building and social connection. DEC serves as a resource center for disabled people and their allies, and it enables connections between people across the mid-Willamette Valley disability community. They also help change social misperceptions about people with disabilities.

PMO: And fill us in on what activities the Center offers to help people living with disabilities in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

Erin: Here are some highlights about events and programs DEC brought to the community in the past year:

  • An online, four-part conversation about race and disability
  • A sidewalk chalk art campaign called #BeautyForAccess in celebration of the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • A summer collaborative art-making journey and series of free, inclusive online art classes for folks of all abilities
  • Affinity group meetings for parents and siblings of people with disabilities, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their allies, and people interested in mobility support and justice
#BeautyforAccess sidewalk chalk art campaign

PMO: Thanks for telling us all about DEC. We also understand you have been attracting a lot of attention from other parts of the U.S. about a program called Walk with Ease (WWE). We know this is an effort to help people living with arthritis, but tell us more.  

Erin: This is a really special time to see national interest in the importance of accessibility for all people regarding health promotion and self-management programs. Last summer, when the pandemic shut down everything, our office realized that we needed to have opportunities for people to come together in a virtual platform. We reached out to the OSU extension office to see if we could hold a WWE class, and we worked with them plus a local recreational therapist to create an accessible version of WWE.

We talked about how movement for everyone looks different. We also discussed what walking is, and how we can redefine walking in how we talk and in images. For example, having an image about Walk with Ease with a person in a wheelchair is so powerful.

Redefining the definition of “walking.” Photo credit: Disabled And Here

PMO: Before you both go—West, the last time we talked about a common misunderstanding that many people had before the pandemic: that productivity and creativity have to follow a uniform process, say working 9 to 5 in an office. We know this is something that people living with a disability have been trying to demonstrate to employers for years. Now that we’re well into a year and a half of many people working from home, what are your thoughts?

West: Yes, the pandemic forced our society to adopt the virtual, remote work setting more rapidly than employers were ready. This has created an opening for some people with disabilities who want to work and can do so productively from their homes. Prior to the pandemic, this kind of virtual, remote work setting might not be considered a reasonable accommodation and may not have been approved by employers because of concern about the ability to be productive and collaborative with their team. Now there is no question that is possible and is not even considered an ADA accommodation but rather an accepted, viable option. This is an advance for people with disabilities who need to work remotely. I think the stigma is diminished or gone because we’ve proven it’s possible.

Connect with West on LinkedIn: or by email: [email protected]. Contact Erin Taylor, program coordinator for United Spinal Association, at [email protected]. Find additional resources at the Oregon Office on Disability and Health (OODH) at OHSU by contacting Program Manager Jana Peterson-Besse at [email protected].

West Livaudais is the executive director of the Oregon Spinal Cord Injury Connection.

Erin Taylor is the program coordinator for United Spinal Association.


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