Disabled Birders

To: "Birding-Aus" <>
Subject: Disabled Birders
From: "Terry Pacey" <>
Date: Wed, 31 Jul 2002 09:26:16 +1000
I have thought long and hard as to whether or not to send this message.  The
comments made during the debate on birding from chairs has shown that there
is a great deal of education needed so that able-bodied birders understand
just what having a disability means.

Before I start, I must point out that I have a very minor disability (if you
exclude stupidity) only.  This disability means that I am often prevented
from birding by serious pain (the type that makes you physically ill) and
inability to stand for any period and/or walk any distance.  Please note
that this is not a constant problem but flares at times. I do not use, or
need a wheelchair, but have had the experience of having a "turn" while
birding by myself at a considerable distance from the car.  Not a pleasant

A disability can very from mild to severe.  It can be full time or part
time.  It may not be obvious.  A wheelchair or a white cane or guide dog
stand out.  Any of you who have had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome know how
annoying it is to have people say how well you look and not be able to
understand why you can't keep up as they stride through the bush.  You know
you feel like s**t and can hardly move but still look well.  This is a
disability too and shows how difficult it can be making judgements.

Some of the people I bird with are hearing impaired.  They can't hear the
bird calls but compensate with remarkably acute sight.  These people need
help by being shown the direction the calls come from.  I have often found
that these birders are the ones who first see the birds.  The opposite also
occurs with the sight impaired often hearing (and identifying) species and
showing exactly where they are which enables the able bodied to see the
species much more easily.

Then there are those who use walking aids.  These vary in size and type.
Many of these birders are unable to use the so called wheelchair access
tracks as the surface is covered in gravel, etc that does not affect wheeled
vehicles but is dangerous with a walking aid which can easily slip on such
surfaces.  The question was asked as to whether these people would be better
off in a wheelchair.  I felt like treating that question with contempt but
realize it was asked by someone who has no experience in these matters.  The
reasons are quite obvious when you think about it.  Wheelchairs are not
exactly inexpensive.  No one I know would carry one "just in case there was
a track that was suitable".  The other reason is that anything which affects
your independence is something to be avoided.  The worst thing about most
disabilities is this reduction of independence.

I have also found that many birding spots (even those that are "wheelchair
friendly") have no suitable parking.  How many times have you parked beside
the road and then walked along the side of the road?  What about when a
group of birders all converge on a "hot spot"?  To unload a wheelchair and
then be able to move from the car to the chair requires a great deal of
extra space.  Even those with mobility problems that do not require a
wheelchair need plenty of space to get in and out of a vehicle.  Then there
are those spots where the nearest parking spot requires you to negotiate the
roadway, up a hill, to reach the track.  Try moving out of the road of
vehicles while negotiating  a steep hill in a wheelchair or while using a
walking aid.

There are many things that can be done to help disabled birders especially
those with diminished mobility.  This includes those who are wheelchair
bound.  The first, and most important, is to show a little understanding and
patience.  Those organising group outings should consider all of the
problems I have mentioned.  Even if someone does not announce they have a
difficulty, that does not mean they are able bodied.  Birders are supposed
to be observant.  That is the very core of birding, but I have seen many
group outings where almost no one noticed that one member took a long time
to climb in or out of the car and had difficulty keeping up.  Of course,
they were just "lazy" weren't they?

I have had many pleasant outings where those with me accepted that I had
difficulties keeping up and showed consideration and assistance when needed.
Then there are those "horror" outings where the opposite happened.  If this
happens to me, how much worse is it for those with greater problems?

There a number of other ideas which are already being practised in some
overseas countries and I will put those forward as suggestions for Australia
in a later posting.

Good birding

Terry Pacey

(Check out the Disabled Birders Association site at

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