“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 the 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, and 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 life. Sometimes it can just take a simple fix.” 

ADA Accessible launch and floating dock at Loon Lake in Michigan

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. 

Similar technology is used at both the State Theatre and the Bijou for the 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. 

The Children's Garden

TART Trails has been redesigning its 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.” 

That DNA is baked into other projects too. The Children’s Garden next to the Traverse City Library has a mailbox with the title of “Ability Gardening” and is designed to make gardening available to all. The Nature Center along the Boardman River has an accessible play area designed for children of all abilities.  

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.

Sleeping Bear Dunes Accessible Dock

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. 

Looking for more information? Contact: http://www.disabilitynetwork.org/.