Using Technology to Help People with Disabilities Enjoy Nature in New Ways

Technology helps people with disabilities at home and in the workplace. Technologies are also making it easier for people with disabilities to enjoy the outdoors. 

This type of adaptive device helps people with disabilities enjoy outdoor sports.
This type of adaptive device helps people with disabilities enjoy outdoor sports.

Meeting a Need 

During the springtime at Snowshoe Mountain Resort in West Virginia, ski slopes become dirt tracks for mountain bikers. The resort has partnered with Challenged Athletes of West Virginia (CAWV) to make these trails accessible for people with disabilities. People who have had amputations, who are paralyzed, or who have learning disabilities can ride the trails on adaptive mountain bikes. Adaptive mountain bikes are designed so that riders with physical or brain-specific disabilities that affect their ability to balance can easily operate the bike on trails. Such bikes are often low to the ground, have three to four wheels for stability, and can be easily steered. 

People who do not have the ability to use their hands to operate adaptive mountain bikes have another option. They too can experience the thrill of speeding down a bike trail using a Cimgo. A Cimgo is an all-terrain downhill wheelchair. The passenger sits in a bucket seat. A person acting as a pilot stands on a foot pedal behind the passenger and steers the Cimgo. The pilot wears a waist strap that is hooked into the braking system. If the pilot falls off the Cimgo, a safety brake is triggered, stopping the Cimgo.  

Each Cimgo pilot must complete mandatory training. CAWV now is certified to train people to become pilots. It is their hope to train people so that Cimgos can be enjoyed by people throughout state and national parks. 

Mapping the Trails 

Move United is another organization that is helping people with disabilities enjoy their adventures safely. If a person using a Cimgo or an adaptive bike does not know what the terrain of the trail is like ahead of time, their safety could be in jeopardy. Trail inclines might be too steep or their Cimgo or adaptive bike might be too wide for a trail.  

Move United is working with the National Park Service to collect data about the make-up of a trail, including its slope and width. It is the group’s goal to gather data so that people with disabilities can explore trails that are best suited for them.  

Dig Deeper  Think about a park that you like to visit. What are some features that might make it difficult for people who have disabilities to enjoy it?