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How Disability Advocates Are Pushing to Make Hiking More Accessible

“I wanted that self-reliance back, I wanted the safety nets removed,” he explained.

While Mr. Thomas believes the backcountry isn’t suitable for everyone, he thinks the outdoors should be. In 2013, he started the Team FarSight Foundation to help empower other visually impaired individuals to hike, climb and get outdoors.

Ambika Rajyagor, 26, of Chino Hills, Calif., loves hiking with her sister, Devika, 23. The pair have traveled to the Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree National Parks, but sometimes struggle to find accessible trails.

Devika has cerebral palsy, experiences seizures and does not speak. She was able to walk until about five years ago, but now she is only able to control her facial muscles. She cannot control a motorized wheelchair and her family is unable to buy a wheelchair for different terrains.

If the sisters want to go on a hike, Ambika must push Devika, which is challenging because Ambika too has a disability, an autoimmune condition that affects her joints and energy levels.

On a recent hike in Carbon Canyon Regional Park in California, Ambika and Devika were testing out a new bright purple wheelchair, with thin rubber wheels that offered some traction. Even with better tires, the pair struggled to make it out of the parking lot, covered with chunky rock gravel, before reaching the hard-packed dirt trail.

“We’re not going to let the trail stop us,” said Ambika.

After encountering unexpected inclines on a short loop labeled “easy” by online reviews, Ambika had to rest. She took off her sister’s headphones, which had been blasting Devika’s favorite music from Taylor Swift, so that they could both enjoy listening to birds flitting around in a small redwood grove. Devika gave her a smile as they rested.

To Ambika, this moment of joy symbolizes the perspective that disabled hikers can bring to outdoor culture. While many outdoor enthusiasts have a mind-set of conquering the outdoors by doing increasingly challenging hikes on ever higher peaks, some disabled hikers often take time to just appreciate the outdoors.

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