Dedicated to Improving the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired People

National Parks and Accessibility

Late summer and Autumn can be an enticing time to take to the road and visit a national park. Roads and facilities may be less crowded and the fall weather may cooperate as well. The National Park Service (NPS) affirms its commitment to making its facilities, programs, services, and employment accessible to visitors and employees with disabilities. A lifetime pass, “The Access Pass,” is available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who “have been medically determined to have a permanent disability (does not have to be a 100 percent disability).” The pass, which is free but requires a $10 processing fee, provides admission to national parks as well as more than 2,000 recreation sites managed by federal agencies. Each park is given the responsibility to provide information about planning a trip to their facilities with accessibility in mind. Visitors who are blind or have low vision may find a range of information on individual park websites. This can include programs offering tactile maps, models, or other displays, with their location; the availability of audio description; and alternate formats, such as large print, braille, and digital. More details about offerings for individuals who are visually impaired are covered on the NPS webpage on Accessibility: Blind/Low Vision. For information about a specific park’s accessibility features, visit the individual park’s website. For additional details about national policies, visit the NPS webpage on Accessibility and here learn more or obtain an Access Pass.

The “Eight Most Accessible National Parks in the U.S. for Travelers with Disabilities”

According to a recent article in Reader’s Digest, “Parks, preserves and historic sites managed by the National Park Service are becoming more inclusive.” The NPS commitment to accessibility is realized in its work to make its offerings available to all individuals with disabilities. As stated by Jeremy Buzzell, manager of the NPS Park Accessibility for Visitors and Employees Program, “’When people think about accessibility…they think about people in wheelchairs who can go down trails. It’s a lot bigger than that.’” He affirmed that “’It’s how we’re making it accessible to people who are blind, hearing impaired…What we want to do is remove as many barriers as we can.’” The Reader’s Digest article offered their “top picks” for the most accessible national parks in the U.S., including:
Death Valley National Park, California:  Includes extra support for those with sensory sensitivities; features an online accessibility guide and a sensory guide rating park attractions in the areas of sight, touch, taste, sound, and smell.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California: Two neighboring parks that just released an accessibility film series to show prospective visitors who have vision, mobility, or hearing challenges the many ways they can enjoy the sites.
Yellowstone Park, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho: Features audio-described park guides as well as large print and braille versions of the map and guide for visitors with vision impairment, along with other accessibility offerings.
Big Thicket National Preserve, Texas: Provides sensory kits to help manage sensitivities, including noise-reduction headphones, sunglasses, and “textured fidget toys” for loan. Service dogs are allowed to go anywhere within the park as well.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan: In addition to extensive services for wheelchairs through “power track chairs,” the park offers support for visitors with blindness or low vision, or those with deafness or hearing loss.
Yosemite National Park, California: Committed to “making its rugged terrain more accessible;” Buzzell from NPS encourages visitors to contact the park ahead of time to communicate their needs and work with them to solve problems.
Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky: Provides an audio version of the cave tour as part of its accessibility offerings to experience the site’s “spectacular geological formations, like stalactites and stalagmites.”
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado: Features regular night-time talks about stars in its accessible amphitheater, along with modifications like balloon-tire wheelchairs for those with mobility challenges.
For more details about these parks, and other accessibility offerings in the NPS system, read the Reader’s Digest article on the 8 Most Accessible National Parks in the U.S. for Travelers with Disabilities.