Marsh-Access Program model for parks with enhanced accessibility for people with disabilities

Americas, August 16 2011

Lyndhurst, NJ, US: The Marsh-Access Program at the Meadow­lands Environment Center has a novel mission: Meet the needs of all learners, particularly people with disabilities.

And its Marsh Discovery Trail allows people with disabilities to engage all five senses in exploring the Meadowlands on an obstacle­free path laden with aids.

For Michele Daly, director of disability education at the Mead­owlands Environment Center and adjunct professor at Ramapo College, MarshAccess holds spe­cial value.

Paralyzed in a car crash 17 years ago, Daly made it her mis­sion to make the environment as accessible to the handicapped as it is to people with disabilities. “I have this unique perspec­tive: I lived half of my life as a normal person, and half as a disabled person,” Daly said. “It is frustrating that there are places a disabled person cannot access. There are also a lot of places that won’t take groups with severe disabilities.”

The MarshAccess Program, integrated into the Richard W. DeKorte Park, is one of a kind, said Neesha Gayle, a group leader with the Bergen County Special Service Careers Through Technology program.

The trails, including Marsh Discovery and Shorewalk, are among the few Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible trails in New Jersey, and the only ones with features catering to those with learning disabilities, visual impairments, hearing and physical disabilities.

Gayle recently brought a group of both physically and mentally disabled adults to the park for a program led by Daly.

“We come here a couple times a year, and they love it,” Gayle said. “We have never gone any­where else. It is great.”

Daly, who greeted each mem­ber of the group by name, said, “At this point, they are like fam­ily.”

The group enthusiastically made its way down the trail with no difficulties, despite all but one  wheelchair users.

The half-mile trail — through wetlands teeming with wildlife and with a view of the New York City skyline — is flat and wide enough to allow wheelchair ac­cess throughout. At two points, audio kiosks provide information on the his­tory of the Meadowlands as well as on its native plants and ani­mals.

Of note, at the trail’s entrance, is a sensory garden, designed to bring diverse plants within reach of visitors with limited mobility.

“You learn so much more by actually going out there and see­ing the plants and animals,” Daly said. “You can’t learn this much in a classroom.”

Other aids include a guide rope along the trail’s edge for blind people. Daly also is working to create signs in Braille. “I love coming here,” said Nury Lambert, one of the visitors with the group. “It’s fun to go through the trails and hear about all the different plants.”


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