Being temporarily dependent on a wheelchair for going any distance and committed to leading a bird walk , I wondered how I would handle the situation. I have always said that one of the nice characteristics of birdwatching is that it is accessible to almost anyone no matter their physical condition. So this trip gave me a chance to personally experience looking for birds while my mobility was restricted. I took a group of 15 people on a walk on a paved trail, avoiding the gravelly paths I usually take. Considering the group consisted mostly of inexperienced birdwatchers and my wife was pushing my wheelchair so I couldn’t scan the brush as I usually do, we still spotted about 20 species of birds, including a great look at a Bewick’s Wren singing to beat the band.
This experience made me think more about access to birdwatching opportunities for the disabled. Various parks or suburban neighborhoods are great places to walk as there are a lot of paved or at least relatively smooth paths bordered by trees and shrubs. But even if there are some rough patches, there are places one can find to just sit and watch.
If you Google “bird watching for the handicapped,” you get 1,250,000 hits – quite a few articles and resources. One is from the School of Medicine at West Virginia University which discusses the needs and resources for handicapped birders in the context of occupational therapy and has further links. There is a Disabled Birders’ Association now called Birding For All . The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds provides helpful hints for the disabled to watch birds. There is also Birding on Wheels, a directory of wheel-chair accessible sites for birdwatching.
Although the fastest growing outdoor sports are things like rock climbing, paddling, lacrosse, and snowshoeing, more people birdwatch in the U.S. than participate in any other outdoor activity; access is one reason why.
One odd thing happened on my wheelchair trip. One of the attendees asked me, as leader, if she should put on her boots in case we were going to do some serious climbing or scrambling over rocks. I said, sitting in my wheelchair, “I don’t anticipate that.”