• Simontika Chowdhury

How Accessible is Accessible for a Disabled Photographer?

Accessibility should not be merely mobility-focused. More and different design features are needed for people who have sensory impairments, mental illnesses, cognitive disabilities, chronic illnesses, and other less well-defined disabilities. Hence today, I will write about Denise Vasquez, who is not only a disabled photographer but also a YouTube blogger who is constantly sharing with us her thoughts and concerns about all the national parks that she visits in the United States. The link to her website can be found here.

This is an image of Denise's Youtube channel, The Disabled Photographer Project
Denise’s YouTube channel that will also navigate you to her website, Instagram feed and twitter

Get to know Denise

Denise is a Council Member at Joshua Tree National Park Association and is actively consulting with other National Parks. Denise creates, shares colorful moments as well as advocates for equality, inclusion, and accessibility. Denise started her photography journey since she was seventeen by travelling around the world. Referred to by the media as being a "Modern Day Renaissance Woman", Denise is also a published author at Penguin Random House. She has also numerous published articles and blogs including her The Disabled Photographer Project Blog.

Denise, who resides in the United States, has started her “The Disabled Photographer Project” through her YouTube channel from March 20, 2021. Her “How accessible is accessible” series has set back a mission to share and demonstrate the accessible parts in national parks. She started her journey in hopes to bring awareness to what can be improved in the national parks in order to create an equally inclusive diverse world in outdoors and beyond!

This is a photograph of a tree on a beautiful starry night.
Photography by Denise Vasquez

The “How accessible is accessible” Project

In her “How accessible is accessible” series, which is solely dedicated for disabled photographers, Denise focuses around accessibility, diversity and inclusion in the outdoors. She decided to start this project after she became permanently disabled from a work injury, but her passion to get outdoors and connect with nature kept her moving.

While exploring national parks, state parks, and local parks, she noticed that the trails, signs, restrooms, picnic areas, campgrounds and much more were not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which has been in effect for over 30 years. On a mission to bring change, she founded The Disabled Photographer Project and How Accessible Is Accessible series.

Reviewing her recent videos

In one of her videos, she talks about an assistive listening device, called the “Tactile Talking Pen”, which the Cabrillo National Monument Park in San Diego uses for individuals with sight impairment. The audio pen is easy to operate, especially for someone who uses an earpiece or headphones as they can easily connect the audio pen to it. The pen’s default computer system determines its location on the tactile surface (the guide/map), then plays spoken descriptions through a tiny speaker or headphones. The talking pen does not only transcribe the text in English but it can also support translating to Spanish. It also comes with a simple User Interface (UI) which allows for individuals who are not tech savvy to simply adjust volume, replay previous audio recordings or ask for help.

When Denise was reviewing one of the renowned national parks in New Mexico, she expressed the following:

“When talking about accessibility, I believe it’s important to include everyone in the conversation! I’ve been fighting to find my place in our society my entire life being a woman, who is Puerto Rican, now add being disabled to my existence! Too often we are excluded from planning, discussions, the media, advertisements, ambassadorships, partnerships, job opportunities, panels, live streams, workshops, and more… but I’m here to do my part in bringing awareness in hopes of bringing change!”

In most of her videos, Denise openly talks about the accessibility infrastructures available for the tourists at the various national parks and whether the parks she visits have ADA compliant trails or not. Besides rating each of the parks she visits, she also mentions the accessibility solutions and measurements taken by the parks’ management teams. Some of these are:

  • Paved trails and ramps and if they are ADA compliant

  • Accessible and gender-neutral restrooms

  • Accessible picnic area

  • Accessible visitor center as she believes rules and regulations of the national parks are always changing, and it is always the best idea to get updated information when visiting any park, especially when it comes to accessibility.

Things to keep in mind when visiting a park

Denise's thorough descriptions about each national/state park she visits gives a clear idea about how accessible the parks are, and this makes researching the park features & services, and planning future trips a lot easier. She also never forgets to share some tips that work for everyone, some of which include:

  • Bring water bottles, always carry them & keep them filled. If you need to fill your water bottle, the visitor center is the only place to fill water containers.

  • Wear sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat.

  • Bring food and snacks.

  • Seek shaded areas!

  • If you’re sledding, sled away from the road.

  • Pets are allowed as long as they are on a leash.

Did you get a chance to go through her videos and blogs? Share with us your experience!

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