Do you know what it is like to be out in nature when you are missing one of your senses? At the Sierra Club’s Inspiring Connections Outdoors/Central Group, we are finding out. We recently partnered with an agency called Hearts For Sight that encourages blind and visually impaired people (VIPs) to participate in physical activities. We arrange buses and lead nature outings for our new VIP friends. Joseph Burton of Hearts For Sight has called our collaboration “a perfect marriage.”
A Sighted Volunteer
Many participants from Hearts For Sight come to enjoy the hikes we sponsor. Together, Hearts For Sight and Sierra Club ICO/Central Group gather a mix of sighted and visually impaired people for monthly outings to our state and local parks. We enjoy the gifts of nature: the birds chirping, the wind blowing and the water flowing by. Walking with my unsighted companion, I describe the flora and fauna that I see. VIPs use their sense of touch, smell and hearing to experience it for themselves. Joseph tells me that many VIPs are not born blind and have a visual memory of the things that we describe to them. Sharing the nature trails with VIPs, I continue to be impressed by the strong sense of self and resilience of my unsighted companions.
Equal Access To Nature
“VIPs are an afterthought of the community. We expect that they are to remain indoors and not have access to public goods, like parks and nature preserves. The Sierra Club gave us an opportunity to [discover the] accessible trails and natural habitats LA has to offer.” These are the words of Joseph Burton who, along with Racquel Decipeda, founded Hearts For Sight. He is so right—our parks and trails are for everyone to enjoy, and we are proud to help give access to these areas (with the assistance of a generous grant from Parks California).
A Route To Health
Being in outdoor spaces improves health and well being for all of us. To quote Joseph, “The feeling of isolation in our population is a real thing. What better way to engage with other people than to do it outside, and do it while you are exercising? That is eco-therapeutics.” The Hearts For Sight/Sierra Club outings allow us to engage as a community and be healthy while enjoying the gifts of nature out on the trails.