Accessing the Inaccessible

By Mike Kent | Traverse City Tourism

“Walk a mile in my shoes,” is a common refrain when talking about viewing life from other perspectives. For many, walking a mile can be painful or maybe impossible. Many people in northern Michigan face physical challenges every day and are unable to enjoy life to the fullest due to barriers they face. But times are changing. Barriers are coming down in northern Michigan that makes taking advantage of the resources of the area accessible to everyone.

The list is long and getting longer of measures taken to increase accessibility. Just a few to mention include accessible kayak launches, accessible fishing piers, beach mattings for wheelchairs, trails wide enough for wheelchairs, bikers and hikers.

“Those are all wonderful improvements,” said Jim Moore, Executive Director of Disability Network Northern Michigan. “If you can’t participate, you tend to isolate and not live as full of a life. Sometimes it can just take a simple fix.”

Interlochen Center for the Arts, the State Theatre and Bijou by the Bay Theatre have added systems that open shows for people who are hearing impaired. Interlochen spearheaded a $118,000 project with systems that boost hearing for people with cochlear implants or have Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids. The system serves people at multiple venues on campus. A similar technology is used at both the State Theatre and the Bijou for hearing impaired. Both theatres also have wheelchair spaces along with companion seating.

 Three years ago, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore became the first park in the country to add track wheelchairs. The chairs use all-terrain rollers to provide access to the sandy shores and trails of the park. The chairs can be reserved at no charge to the user. TART Trails has been redesigning their trail system to create a culture of accessibility. It can be seen with the recent unveiling of the Boardman Loop Trail that circumvents Boardman Lake. “Serving everybody in the community is a top priority of ours,” said Brian Beauchamp, TART’s Communications Director. “It’s kind of baked into our DNA and is just part of what we do.”

 Many years ago, I spent a day in a wheelchair as part of a community awareness event. It was eye-opening. I found how little things became huge obstacles. I remember dramatically struggling with a garden hose that was across the sidewalk. If I had been walking, I wouldn’t have thought twice about that hose. “We can bring down the barriers, if we understand what those barriers are,” said Moore.

 Moore recognizes the progress the area is making with accessibility, but he has a vision of assuring that all visitors to the region, no matter their abilities, have opportunities to find a beach, a shady bench, a place to relax and enjoy the lakes, rivers and magnificent views. “There’s a lot of development and excitement about accessibility here. We want to make sure nobody gets left out and everybody gets a chance to play,” Moore concludes.

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Traverse City Tourism | Accessing the Inaccessible