University of Edinburgh

Accessing Outdoor Environments for Visually Impaired Children

Presented in June 2011

Approaches to Outdoor Activity

For a long time, in contrast with the built environment (through Part M of the building regulations 1999 Eng, 2001 Scotland) the outdoor environment did not have any statutory guidance to assist in the production of accessible outdoor space (Countryside Agency, 2005).

In response to this deficit, a variety of agencies embarked on providing such guidance.

Given the scarcity of research into disabled people’s access to the outdoors, guidance has often emerged as a result of research by organisations.

Much of this guidance was excellent, but one limitation common to much of it was a confinement of attention to the question of physical access

Access to the Outdoors

  • 1997 BT Countryside for All Accessibility standards, developed by the Fieldfare Trust (Updated 2005).
  • A range of organisations were involved in the development of the standards including organisations of and for disabled people.
  • The guide provides physical access standards in three identified landscapes - urban and formal landscapes; urban fringe and managed landscapes; rural and working landscapes.
  • In addition to this, the guide offers advice on working with disabled people ('networking'), information, transport, and interpretation of guidelines.
  • 2001
    the Countryside Agency produced standards which led to the establishment of management zones.
  • 2005
    the Countryside agency launched its guide "By all reasonable means", which incorporated the notion of "the access chain" and adopted the principle of least restrictive access.

    It is argued that if the chain is broken then a visit may not take place. While a useful conceptual tool, it could be argued that access to the outdoors begins before the decision to visit, being informed by the values and attitudes of the individual and those around them.

Notes: Zone A providing access for most people through to Zone C providing access for some people Briefly 'the access chain', developed by the Sensory Trust (2005) represents a series of links from an individual's decision to visit a place, for example a woodland, their journey, arrival, actual visit and return home.

  • 2004 The Forestry Commission have produced the most explicit guidance for those involved in the management of woods and forests in its document Making Woodlands More Accessible (Harrop et al, 2004).
  • The guidance draws on a wide range of sources including the Countryside for All guidelines mentioned above, RNIB guidance and various Forestry Commission guidance.
  • 2004/5 English Heritage has produced guidance documents which draw upon many of the guidance documents referred to above in relation to historic buildings and landscapes (2004 and 2005).

Eric Weihenmayer

  • Born with Retinoschisis - first person who is blind to summit Mount Everest, scale the infamous El Capitan and Argentina's Aconcaugua - has successfully climbed all seven of the highest mountains in the world.
  • Acrobatic skydiver, long distance biker, marathon runner, skier, mountaineer, ice climber and rock climber.
  • Eric's father encouraged Eric to challenge the ideas of what a blind person can and cannot do.
  • "I climbed because each time I was able to go one step further, that was one step further than I knew I was possible. And when I got to wherever I was heading, I found myself in a place that, at one time, only existed in my imagination."


Marla Runyan

  • Born with Stargardt's Disease
  • First legally blind athlete to compete in the Olympics (800m, 1500m, 3,000m and 5,000m) at the 2000 Sydney, Australia Olympics
  • "Don't listen to negative influences. Believe in yourself, and show others what you can do. Only 'you' can find your potential."


Bill Irwin

  • Only person who is blind to through-hike the 2,168 mile Appalachian Trail with his guide dog, Orient.
  • Began in Georgia and ended nine months later in Northern Maine.


Jim Mastro

  • Competed in the 1976 Montreal, 1980 Gelio, Norway and 1984 Innsbruck, Austria Paralympics
  • Medalled in four Paralympic sports (judo, goalball, wrestling and track & field), winning five gold medals and three silver medals.1996 Atlanta, USA Paralympics; (judo and track & field)

Isaac Goodpaster

  • Wide receiver for Wofford College football team in South Carolina
  • Earned four letters in football, three in baseball and two in basketball.
  • "Coach," Goodpaster said, "I also have a vision problem." "Son, I saw how you can play," Bryant told the wide receiver. "I don't care."