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Guest Blog by Jeffrey VanDyke

young man holds his fist beneath his chin. he is seated in a TrackChair with ferns and woods in he background. His blue tee shirt says "difference maker)
I am a Peer Mentor, Graphic Designer, Social Media Manager, and Community Presenter at Disability Network West Michigan
. My job is to talk of accessibility in terms of making the world a better, more inclusive place for others. But I also speak from a practical perspective – and lived experience. I myself, am a wheelchair user who was born with Cerebral Palsy as a result of being born 3 months premature.

smiling young man is seated in a TrackChair with beach bathhouse in he background. His blue tee shirt says "difference maker. A mural of sailboats is above his head

While accessibility, at its core, is intended to open up the world for all, it’s also important to acknowledge there is not a “one size fits all” approach. Something that works for one individual might not be the entire key for the person beside them. But take a little dialogue, trial and error, compassion, and perhaps a bit of MacGyvering with the tools and elements available (don’t look at the screen like that… I’m not that old, we’re talking about the reboot!). Couple these with creative thinking and you never know who’s life you could be impacting. Or, just how far into the future that reach can – and will go.

stylized persons of varying disabilities illustrated in blues and orange within circle

Design by Jeffrey VanDyke

You see, accessibility is not merely being able to access something – or not. Accessibility elevates a person from being a casual observer to an active participant in the treasures of life. This is often achieved by providing the proper tools and specialized equipment. This equipment offers an opportunity to take part in daily activities. Daily activities that those living without disabilities may take for granted. For those within the disability community this was something only to be dreamt of. Until recently.

hikers can be seen in background. main image consists of fern leaf in forground. text to right says view visitors guide

This past week, I had the privilege of doing something I never thought possible. That was being able to not only go to the beach as a wheelchair user – but to actively explore the sand-scape. I was also able to traverse the hiking trails at Muskegon Luge Adventure Sports Park. All thanks to a specialized Action Trackchair, which was provided to me by the Muskegon State Park. This TrackChair available to all who request it – free of cost!

smiling young man in wheel chair sits before a TrackChair. A State park ranger stands nearby. beach dunes and grass are in the background. His blue tee shirt says "difference maker)

Did you know Muskegon State Park offers FREE use of a TrackChair and BeachChair? The TrackChair can be used on the beach or trails. You only need to call and reserve. Click the image for more information.

From a personal perspective, it’s difficult to adequately describe or capture. How surreal the feeling of looking out at the water and being able to glide through the sand independently.  Without worry about becoming trapped in the sand. Or waiting for another person to move you from one point to another. But in a single word, it’s truly freeing. Beyond that, it was also quite emotional for multiple reasons.

smiling young man in TrackChair on the beach. Lake Michigan is in the background and a small dune with a tree are to his right.

The first person that I couldn’t help but think about was my Mom. My Mom was my original lifelong Disability Advocate. She absolutely loved sitting at the lake watching the water from our car. We were never able to leave the vehicle due to inaccessibility at the beach.

Young man in TrackChair on the beach looks out over Lake Michigan. Beach goers and bright umbrellas are on the shoreline.

We unfortunately lost her in 2020 after an 18 month long battle with Lung Cancer. But somehow I felt connected to her. as I knew she was enjoying the view with me. And hopefully she was looking over my entire journey with pride.

smiling young man is seated in a TrackChair in front of sign that says "welcome to muskegon luge". His blue tee shirt says "difference maker

Click Image for information on Adaptive Sports Available at Muskegon Luge Adventure Sports Park

Beyond my own journey, I feel extraordinarily blessed to participate in a day of this magnitude. As I know firsthand how this equipment will open up a whole new world for people with disabilities. 

Adaptive Zip-line at Muskegon Luge Adventure Sports Park. Photo Courtesy of Muskegon Luge Adventure Sports Park.

The ability to freely explore and navigate beaches, trails, and other terrains!
Smiling young man travels hiking path in TrackChair at Muskegon Luge Adventure Sports Park. He is surrounded by trees and natural flora.
All these were previously too difficult to navigate before such magnificent inventions. It is difficult to encapsulate in words, but it will truly be a catalyst in changing lives. For years to come it will change how people living with disabilities navigate travel.
 
Thank you allowing myself and future generations the opportunity to experience (as we should be able too) hope, joy, and optimism for the future.

Jeffrey VanDyke
Graphic Design Specialist
Disability Network West Michigan

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I wish for a world that views disability, mental or physical, not as a hindrance but as unique attributes that can be seen as powerful assets if given the right opportunities.” 
~ Oliver Sacks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corey Lee Using Beach Wheel Chair

Read the National Geographic article “Here are the most wheelchair-friendly beaches in the U.S.” by Curb Free with Corey Lee