The benefits of green space and nature are increasingly recognized and translated into public health policy and practice. Alongside this trend, inclusion of all people into parks and nature has been an important area of parks and recreation practice. Nature inclusion for those with disabilities, youth, seniors and immigrants has become a focus of Alberta Parks in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism Parks and Recreation in Western Canada. This study was designed to examine the experiences of participants in two such government-supported inclusive nature activities, including day trips and more extensive week-end or week-long nature experiences for adults with disabilities and caregivers.
Two phases of qualitative data collection occurred as part of a pilot project. The first phase was comprised of eight semi-structured interviews (four adults with cognitive, developmental, emotional/mental health or physical disabilities and four caregivers). In a second phase 27 participants (also adults with a range of disabilities and paid, voluntary or family caregivers) engaged in a semi-structured reflective writing process during the existing nature activities (day trip, week-end or week-long inclusive nature experiences).
This is one of the first studies in the field to embrace the benefits of adopting both a human capabilities approach, emphasizing that human diversity is fundamental to equality and development, and an ecopsychological view, with a concern for individual perspectives and well-being as fundamentally interconnected to the environment.
Three dominant qualitative themes of inclusive nature experiences emerged: ‘Sensory Activation’, ‘Reimagined Social Relations’ and ‘Reinvented Self’. Inclusion in nature for both caregivers and adults with disabilities holds promise as an activity that can support mental well-being through a reimagining and equalizing of relationships and one’s experience of self in the physical environment.
Such evidence is important for decision-making and programme development among collaborative partners, including not-for profit disability-related recreation organizations and both public health and parks departments of government. In particular, the findings highlight areas for further activity development targeting those with sensory impairment and relationship disharmony.
Jakubec, S.L., Carruthers Den Hoed, D. and Ray, H. (2014), "‘I Can Reinvent Myself Out Here’: Experiences of Nature Inclusion and Mental Well-Being", Environmental Contexts and Disability (Research in Social Science and Disability, Vol. 8), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 213-229. https://doi.org/10.1108/S1479-354720140000008012
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