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Walking the Track with the vision and hearing impaired

We often take for granted the ease with which we are able to access the Bibbulmun Track. But imagine you were deafblind. The simple act of going for a walk if you suffered from limited sight and hearing would not only be difficult, but would also raise significant safety concerns.

The Senses Foundation is a charitable, not for profit organisation, which is the primary service provider and advocate for Western Australians who are deafblind, and for people with vision impairment and an additional disability. Several clients from the Senses Foundation have identified walking as an activity in which they would like to participate. Moreover, they have expressed the desire to improve their fitness through high level activities such as multi-day bushwalks.

A partnership between the Bibbulmun Track Foundation and the Senses Foundation has been established to provide these opportunities. Through a grant from the Disability Services Commission (DSC), a group of people who are deafblind or vision impaired with additional disabilities were able to head out in June for an overnight experience on the Track.

The walkers were assisted by Mike and Frances from the Senses Foundation with myself as the BTF guide. We began our walk at the Calamunda Camel Farm and proceeded toward Hewett’s Hill campsite for the night. The next day we walked on to South Ledge. In all, we walked a total of 6.3km. This section of the track was chosen because of the suitability of the terrain and the distance needed to achieve our goals.

As with anyone having their first introduction to hiking and camping on the Track, there was a huge learning curve involved – but the learning was not limited to the participants. As a walk leader, I learnt much about the issues surrounding people who are deafblind accessing the Track, and participating in recreational activities in general. Some issues related to safety while walking (e.g. negotiating erosion on the Track, stepping over rocks and crossing water bars) and navigation around the campsite after dark (e.g. using the toilet facilities). The walk again highlighted the fact that, with proper planning and support, the Bibbulmun Track can be accessible and beneficial to a wide range of people.

At the campsite, participants were given the opportunity to learn about making camp, cooking on a fuel stove, fire making using balga sticks, using resin to make glue and using box grass to make string. The participants enjoyed their time out on the Track so much that they were already talking about their next trip before the first was finished!

The grant also allows for future day walks and another overnight walk. Senses Foundation will produce a short promotional DVD to highlight the positive benefits of including people with disabilities in the recreational activities of community groups. A second DVD, produced as a training tool, will outline the skills and strategies for including people who are deafblind, or vision impaired with additional disabilities in community based walking groups. These DVDs will be available later in the year.

Our thanks go to the DSC for the grant and to Mike House at the Senses Foundation for organising this initiative, securing the funding and involving the Bibbulmun Track Foundation.