Break Down The Barriers

Words: Jill Macdonald

Photos: Adaptive Climbing Group

On August 7, 2019, Arc’teryx will donate 100% of proceeds from the day’s sales on to the Adaptive Climbing Group. 

Kareemah Batts lives in New York City. Guess what? In the Big Apple, the head of access to public parks works from her wheelchair. There is a department of the mayor’s office dedicated to removing barriers for disabled people and it’s run by disabled people. The point is, being on the inside of a situation sheds light on the real obstacles people face when trying to access the outdoors. Having to learn how to negotiate the world as an amputee has given Kareemah insight and initiative. She founded the Adaptive Climbing Group in 2012, dedicated to spreading the message that anyone can climb.

Kareemah Batts, Founder of the Adaptive Climbing Group.

The biggest obstacle is access. Here are five tips from Kareemah that will help us all understand and allow organic growth in our thoughts, language and actions to move us toward the day when we won’t need to advocate for diversity or inclusion, it will be woven into our social fabric.

  1. Advocate for Access

The outdoors is often where people look to expend energy, go on spiritual journeys, test themselves mentally and physically; and to have fun. How do humans get to the outdoors? In cars, on buses, on foot. Think about your public lands and parks; they may not be locked, but are the keys there for disabled people to easily and readily get to the bouldering area, or experience an independent lap around the lake in their wheelchair?  If you see issues, approach your city council or parks board. Advocate for a bus stop. Try to let people in.

  1. Cultivate Independence

We can’t have ramps built everywhere. It’s not reasonable, and there is no expectation. Yet things like technology, clothing design and more information can allow us to live our lives independently in the great outdoors. Well placed signs can allow us to live our lives independently in the great outdoors.  Accessible parking spaces near the trailhead, accessible campsites at our favorite parks that allow us to drive right up to the platform/site to pitch our tents. Pathways or groomed trails that permit independent travel through the environment. Clothing designs: imagine a raincoat that’s easy to put on in a wheelchair, or technology built into your clothing so you can have a wireless chat with someone on the ground when you’re cragging. How cool would that be? We are talking about fun after all.

  1. Educate Yourself

Before my first climbing trip, of course, I wondered if I was physically capable. I was just a year into recovering from cancer and adjusting to life as an amputee. City sidewalks were all I had tried to walk on. But, instead of asking a climber what I might need for my trip, I went online and googled the subject matter. Went to the best outdoor store I knew in town and ask for the fixins, from rucksack to mountaineering boots. Yeah, I was overpacked and overprepared for day trips to the crag. Oops.

The best way to be an ally to a person with a disability in the outdoors is to talk to a person with a disability in the outdoors.

  1. The Assumption Trap

Information. In the life of a person with disabilities, our options tend to be limited by terrain when we are outdoors. However, a lot of times we are limited by other people’s assumptions and what they eliminate telling us as a result of those assumptions. The more information you can provide give, the more options we have. We like to decide if we want to do something. Let us know of possible obstacles, conditions that might be tough, scenarios that may be uncomfortable. We’ll ask the right questions and make our decisions.

Here’s an idea: Once we’re out there, let us set the pace. Being out front takes the edge off feeling left behind or apologetic because you may be holding the group back.

  1. Talking Points

Language. It’s tricky, but not impossible for any of us to cultivate awareness of our choice of words. Referring to a disability first is a means of keeping that person categorized. It’s not different than eliminating references to hair colour, height, race or religion. People first.

This year Kareemah organized a trip for climbers to attend the International Federation of Sport Climbing Paraclimbing World Championships in France, a three-day event featuring elite climbers such as Craig DeMartino. She took on the challenge of flights, accommodations and transport for the group, a significant undertaking given all the considerations that long distance travel presents to people with disabilities. And she does it all with a smile as their advocate!