This is an op-ed written by Kimberly Salloum, member of the Trinidad and Tobago Occupational Therapy Association (TTOTA) and organiser of “Hike for All”.
Life on our beautiful twin islands presents countless opportunities to immerse oneself in a variety of natural environments. As occupational therapists, we are acutely aware that many of the experiences we consider typically Trinbagonian may be inaccessible to a significant portion of our society and their families due to physical, mental, psychosocial, or sensory factors.
From this need, “Hike for All” was created by the Trinidad and Tobago Occupational Therapy Association (TTOTA) through avid hiker, nature lover and TTOTA member Kimberly Salloum.
The first of four guided hikes was held last Sunday 22nd April at Bush Mountain, St Ann’s in collaboration with Mr. Courtenay Rooks. This is a man-made trail situated behind Cascadia Hotel, reaching to a gorgeous lookout over Port of Spain.
Child, adult, disability or not, nature is healing and restorative; it is something that everyone deserves to experience.
The day of the hike was emotional us. We experienced a lot of anxiety leading up to the day: Was everything organised enough? Will everyone have an enjoyable time? Will the persons using wheelchairs make it up and down seamlessly and enjoy themselves? What if it rains, making the trail more slippery for wheelchairs?
For the weeks leading up to the event, we tested, re-tested, and re-re-tested the trail to ensure safe wheelchair access up and down the mountain. And whether sitting or standing, assisted or not, on the day of the hike, we all made it to the top to enjoy the view and breathe in the fresh mountain air, while munching on freshly-baked goodies and cold water generously donated by Adams Bagels.
The response after this first hike has been overwhelming. In the space of 2 days following the hike, all of the spots for our next hike got filled. We have received positive feedback from communities of people that typically don’t feel empowered. Families approached us to say what a wonderful time they had, asking if we would make this a regularly occurring event. A person using a wheelchair wanted to return to challenge himself to complete the trail with no help. We knew then that we were on to something big.
People are craving unique ways to spend their weekends. And everybody should be able to enjoy all the natural beauty Trinidad has to offer. Child, adult, disability or not, nature is healing and restorative; it is something that everyone deserves to experience.
We have sparked a conversation. And we hope that this spark leads to fireworks.
More than just a series of hikes, we aim to spark the conversation about the way our public spaces are designed. We want to show that life with a disability may have its limitations, but it may be our minds, and as a result the way we design our spaces, that presents the ultimate limitation. We as a country, as a people, need to do better to ensure an inclusive and accessible society for all. This translates not only into created accessible spaces, but into inclusive education, equal opportunity for work and employment, and participation in recreational activities.
We hope that our series of hikes sparks a greater movement towards improved accessibility and inclusivity for all in order to created a more empowered society.
“Hike for All” has three more events, scheduled for April 29th, May 6th, and May 13th. Check out the Trinidad and Tobago Occupational Therapy Association (TTOTA) on Facebook or visit ttota.com for more information.