Research indicates that visually impaired individuals often find themselves on the perimeter of activities that sighted individuals enjoy, leading to lower than average rates of time spent in nature.
Yet trees provide unique sensory experiences for the visually impaired – the textures and patterns of bark, the shapes and sizes of leaves, the unique routes carved out by roots, and the interesting paths taken by branches. An opportunity existed. How do we get the visually impaired out in nature, enjoying trees?
Evan Barnard, a 16 year-old junior at Johns Creek, Georgia, High School, answered the call. He began work on a Braille trail — a nature trail with Braille signage and guide ropes to improve access for the visually impaired.
Evan attended a Georgia Council of the Blind meeting and invited members to experience the trail. He quickly found himself with a group of enthusiastic volunteers.
One day, standing near the Gwinnett, Georgia, Environmental and Heritage Center, Evan heard the breeze whispering in the woods, and decided the name for a new trail — Whispering Woods Braille Trail. Construction started on Global Youth Service Day.
The ability for the visually impaired to walk freely along the trail is a unique opportunity for those usually unable to enjoy the forest. Georgia Council of the Blind members experienced the trail and provided suggestions.
The experience was moving. One participant commented on how long it had been since he had been in nature and connected with trees, and how much it meant to him. This life-altering experience would not have been possible were it not for Evan Barnard.
Evan is sharing his work with legislators and others, and as a participant in TEDx Global Youth Day — a series of events all around the world designed to empower and inspire young people.
For determination and innovation in increasing nature access for the visually impaired, Evan Barnard is the recipient of the 2015 Award for Education Innovation. This year’s Arbor Day Award ceremony will be held at Lied Lodge & Conference Center, located at Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, Nebraska, on Saturday, April 25.
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