Social Distancing with Disabilities in the Black Hills
– By Catherine Greseth
It looks like it will be a busy summer in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Everyone is looking for a way to get away during COVID-19, and still remember social distancing. That being said, there seem to be many more families traveling with 3, sometimes 4 generations. More and more tourists are requiring accommodations and traveling with Service Animals. Over the last year, work has been done in South Dakota on Mt Rushmore. Mt Rushmore is getting an upgrade that will make it easier for everyone but, most importantly, those with disabilities. In fact, all our National Parks are getting upgrades to make sure they are accessible to all different kinds of abilities. These upgrades go way past the parking lots. By making trails and campsites accessible, thousands of individuals will have the means to get outside and fulfill their desires. For way too long, accessibility was thought of as just the parking lot and maybe a mile of nature walks. Now it includes miles of trails for wheelchairs and scooters, picnic areas, fire pits, restrooms, campsites and so much more. If you have a disability, the National Parks Service offers a free lifetime pass for U.S. Citizens who are permanently disabled.
The tourism industry is also acknowledging that the disability community exists and has a huge economic impact. Globally it is estimated that 1 billion individuals have a disability, add in caregivers, spouses, and children that travel with the person with a disability and you have 2 billion. That is 1/3rd of the world’s population that are directly affected by disabilities!
Forward-thinking organizations are looking for ways to improve their confidence and capability in meeting the needs of people with disabilities. In the United States, we have 52 million Americans with disabilities with a spending power of $220 Billion. With these kinds of numbers, it is important to equip ourselves with the necessary confidence and skills to respond effectively to tourists with disabilities visiting the Black Hills.
Tips for Communicating with Tourists with Disabilities
- When being approached for directions or information, be polite, introduce yourself, and ask how you can help.
- Wait until your offer is accepted before trying to assist someone.
- Be considerate of the extra time it may take some individual to complete or say some things.
- Don’t patronize or talk down to a person with a disability, or assume that they won’t understand you.
- If a person is blind or has a vision impairment, consider describing the layout of the area to them, especially any obstacles like stairs or furniture.
- Don’t distract a guide dog or assistance animal by patting it or giving it food.
- Speak directly to the person, even when they are accompanied by an interpreter or assistant.
- Always make sure you’re facing the person when you speak to them. Don’t cover your mouth or speak when your back is turned.
- Don’t shout, use big hand gestures, or speak extra slowly to someone who is hard of hearing or has difficulty understanding - just speak clearly.
- Try and put yourself at eye level with a person who is a wheelchair user and speak directly to them.
- Don’t push a person’s wheelchair if they haven’t asked you to, and never lean on or hang things from a person’s wheelchair.
- Most importantly, find out what their needs are and how you can best meet them. Needs are different for each individual and disability.
- Also remember that 80% of disabilities are not visible: arthritis, early stages of MS, cancer, mental illness, cognitive disabilities such as Alzheimer’s, autism, hard of hearing and even blindness, and the list goes on.
The Black Hills are a big beautiful place that is becoming accessible to all!