Community
Features

1 woman who is helping to make nature accessible in Victoria

Nature is a huge draw for residents and visitors—for those who can access it

Community
Features

1 woman who is helping to make nature accessible in Victoria

Nature is a huge draw for residents and visitors—for those who can access it

Photo: Sidney Coles / LJI
Photo: Sidney Coles / LJI
Community
Features

1 woman who is helping to make nature accessible in Victoria

Nature is a huge draw for residents and visitors—for those who can access it

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1 woman who is helping to make nature accessible in Victoria

With its breathtaking landscapes, lush rainforests, rugged coastline, and endless trails, Vancouver Island is an irresistible draw for outdoor enthusiasts. In the CRD alone, one can enjoy a multitude of outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, fishing, walking, kayaking, and mountain biking but the outdoor experience people cherish so much can be seriously curtailed if you are disabled.

Despite the region's stunning natural landscapes, the lack of universally accessible infrastructure poses a formidable barrier for people with disabilities. Many outdoor spaces, such as parks, trails, and recreational facilities, often lack wheelchair ramps, accessible pathways, and amenities designed to accommodate various disabilities.

This lack of accessibility limits the ability of disabled individuals to engage in outdoor activities, enjoy nature, and participate in recreational events, perpetuating a sense of exclusion and isolation. 

In partnership with the Victoria Tool Library–a popular membership-driven tool borrowing shop on Fairfield—Tanelle Bolt is working to change that. 

Through her charitable organization, RAD Recreation Adapted Society, Bolt says she wants to “create a world where individuals living with short-term and permanent mobility issues have the opportunity and means to live independent, active (outdoor) lifestyles with friends and family regardless of financial circumstance.” 

She has made three adaptive devices available at the Tool Library to help people get out into the world in an immersive way.

“They allow people who are in a wheelchair not to have to stare at the ground in front of themselves,” said Bolt. “People take for granted just being able to look up and experience their surroundings. I spend so much time staring at the ground. I miss what's going on.”

Some of the equipment isn't cheap

Her support for accessible nature-based experiences is physical and financial. Bolt felt it was important to make these devices available because of their high price tags. A basic trike is $9K. A smart drive for a wheelchair costs $6K and a wheelchair paddle board, which she hopes to make available soon at the Tool Library’s Fairfield location is also just more than $6K.

The Tool Library borrowing model allows people to take power tools and assistive devices out for some time without making a steep financial commitment. It also helps disabled people decide whether the equipment is right for them and whether they want to invest.

The mountain trike has electric assist, which Bolt says means “you can easily pedal uphill and you can go further faster. You have the potential, with a mountain trike, to go all the way along Dallas road, right up and down the big, steep hill to Clover Point and it can take you out on some rocks and through the dirt and across the grass.” 

Bolt is also trying to counter what she feels is the province’s lack of investment in options for recreational athletes who just want to be out on trails or surfing like everyone else. “They will invest in you if they think you’re going to podium at the next Paralympics, but if you’re just a regular athlete or just a person wanting to explore the outdoors, there is very little support,” Bolt said, adding most of her donations come from the U.S.

Bolt is a superwoman on wheels. In 2014, she sustained a serious spinal injury after a 60-foot bridge jump that left her paralyzed and in a wheelchair. Recovery wasn’t easy.

Recovery wasn’t easy. She has since made her way to wins in wheelchair bodybuilding and when asked what motivates her about competing she said “my desire to get back into a training state of mind and to forever have ammunition against those who say they can’t.”

Like the headstrong athlete she is, she carries this same discipline, energy, and sense of commitment to pushing the limits of independence and access and helping others do the same.

Russel Mulnar, who volunteers four days a week at the Tool Library, is a huge fan of Bolt’s work. “She’s got so much energy and she just gives so much," he says.

Asked to describe her core goal, Bolt doesn't hesitate: “I want to see people smile and have a better-lived experience."

Fewer area sources to borrow equipment

Five years ago, the CRD, along with the districts of Saanich and Oak Bay pulled their funding for Recreation Integration Victoria, a service that also had specially designed adaptive equipment for loan, leaving Bolt’s as the only mobility device loan game in town. 

However, the not-for-profit Power to Be, offers inclusive nature-based programming that encourages people to explore “what’s possible.” They work on the premise that 

nature is for everyone. For individuals looking for accessible trails around Victoria, the CRD has published a Guide to User Friendly Trails which includes trail profiles, site maps, and graphic-based accessible amenity indicators for disabled people and people with limited mobility.  

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