Home • Burlington County News Agencies ‘wake’ up to disability access in nature areas

Agencies ‘wake’ up to disability access in nature areas

Nick Butler/The Sun

It’s about making nature accessible to all.

The New Jersey Department of Human Services (DHS) and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) have launched an initiative spearheaded by the Pinelands Preservation Alliance. With funding from the Inclusive Healthy Communities (IHC) grant program, the goal is to break down barriers and ensure individuals of all abilities can take advantage of the state’s natural areas, according to the IHC website.

Members of the three agencies led a tour on Oct. 26 to demonstrate how they are making everything more accessible. It was held at the Atsion Recreation Area, part of Wharton State Forest in the heart of the Pinelands National Reserve.

Nick Butler/The Sun

New Jersey Department of Human Services Commissioner Sarah Adelman highlighted some of what she called “amazing things” to come.

“Our goal is always to help our communities become more fully accessible to the wide array of individuals who we serve, and this is the latest example of those efforts,” she explained. ” … It is wonderful to see public and private organizations partner to create equitable access to natural areas for New Jerseyans with disabilities, as we witnessed at the Atsion Recreation Area.”

Alliance Executive Director Carleton Montgomery said the IHC initiative “woke us up to the fact that our outdoor recreation programs and all our communications about recreation in the Pinelands excluded people with disabilities.”

“Now we’re collaborating with a diverse network of partners to make sure people can enjoy the natural places they help protect, regardless of disability status,” he added. “For us and our partners, Inclusive Healthy Communities sparked a fundamental change in our thinking and our practices, which we believe is making New Jersey a better and a fairer place to live and explore.”

Nick Butler/The Sun

Since 2021, the alliance has received $280,000 in IHC grant funding to make its mission of accessibility a reality. The grant program was first formed in January of that year. In partnership with the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy of Rutgers University, it seeks to create change by addressing challenges that hinder anyone with disabilities from fully enjoying an everyday activity.

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