Birdability founder Virginia Rose is passionate about birds, nature and the trails that lead to both, and she is certain there’s at least one disabled person like her in most cities. “If there is a me here in Austin, then there is a ‘me’ everywhere,” says Rose, a wheelchair user for over 45 years. “And so my big goal is to find the person in all of these places who can tell us where all those accessible places are.”
She’s off to an amazing start, having already identified 34 wheelchair-friendly trails for birdwatchers in Austin and roping in eight Birdability captains from Mississippi to Pennsylvania to find and document similar trails in their own cities. Plus, she regularly leads bird walks for disability groups in Austin and speaks at birding festivals around the nation about the importance of letting folks know what accessibility is already available.
Her four-prong approach is to identify:
1. Audubon members or other birders who have mobility impairments.
2. As many wheelchair-friendly areas to birdwatch as she and her captains can.
3. Other people with mobility impairments interested in birding who may never even have heard of the Audubon society.
4. The most accessible birding festivals with officials open to placing accessible bird walks on the schedule.
“If everyone knows those four prongs, they can start making their own to-do lists in their various worlds to make it happen,” says Rose.
She also has a seven-point checklist that purposefully falls short of ADA accessibility for people to use on trails in their own towns. “If we get into the weeds of having everything ADA accessible, we won’t get anywhere,” she says. “We can’t formulate ourselves into all these codes that are meant to free us that then end up restricting us, limiting us and keep us from trying something. My philosophy is difficulty and uncertainty lead to empowerment and joy. I believe that so strongly with my heart and soul because I’ve lived my whole life like that and I’ve been in a wheelchair for 46 years.”
More information, including her seven-point checklist, are available at birdability.com.