Washington Trails Association
Trails for everyone, forever
Syren Nagakyrie hopes their new hiking guide gives many who have felt excluded the information they need to get outside. By Jessi Loerch
Syren Nagakyrie wrote the book they wanted to see in the world.
Syren is a disability advocate and the creator of Disabled Hikers. They have loved being outdoors since childhood but found access difficult due to a lack of information for disabled people. Syren has multiple disabilities and chronic illnesses and is neurodivergent.
“For me, the kind of information I need to be able to decide if I should attempt a trail, it doesn’t exist,” Syren said. “There’s a bit here and there and all over. I would spend hours researching a single hike. Then, I would get there and it wouldn’t be accurate.”
Syren wanted to provide a resource that was written by a disabled person for disabled people. They also wanted to write a book that would work for as broad a community as possible.
“Disabled folks are so diverse,” they said. “They have a wide range of needs. I can’t serve everyone, but I am trying to be as inclusive as possible.”
To that end, they wrote their book, "The Disabled Hiker’s Guide to Western Washington and Oregon: Outdoor Adventures Accessible by Car, Wheelchair and on Foot," for folks with physical disabilities, as well as sensory disabilities, intellectual disabilities and neurodivergent people. The book is also for the family, friends and caregivers of disabled people. Syren included scenic drives, which are not standard entries for hiking guidebooks, as another way to offer outdoor recreation to as many people as possible.
Syren hopes their book will expand the definition of and information about what makes an accessible trail. They say that there tends to be a narrow definition of an accessible trail as one that’s accessible for folks in a standard wheelchair. But hikers who use specialized equipment, including wheelchairs, walkers, canes or other mobility aids, can explore a variety of trails as long as they have a good idea of what to expect. Syren has included detailed information in the book to help hikers decide if the trail will work for them. That includes information on the distance, elevation gain, maximum grade on trail and maximum cross-slope (how much a trail slopes from side to side), as well as the surface of the trail, the trail’s typical width and whether or not the trail has cell phone reception.
Syren developed their own rating system for the book to help describe how much effort a trail might require. The rating gives readers an idea of how accessible the hike is, how much effort it will take and how replenishing the hike might be. It’s a sort of combination of accessibility, difficulty and quality rating.
Syren hopes their book helps more disabled people get outside and that it encourages efforts to make trails more accessible overall. They’ll continue to do this work, both with Disabled Hikers and in further guidebooks. Their next book will be for Northern California.
“My hope is that people will see this book and that it exists to help them get outside. They can feel like they can have access to the outdoor community and be able to have these experiences. Disabled people have been an afterthought at best,” Syren said. “I hope this book prompts more conversation about disability in the outdoors and about what people need.”
“Western Washington and Oregon offer an incredible diversity of ecosystems. Old-growth temperate rain forest, craggy mountain peaks, stunning beaches, active volcanoes, and fertile river valleys define the region, making the area one of the top recreation spots in the country. You can visit the ocean, the rain forest, and the mountains all in a single day.
Of course, this popularity has had an impact, and outdoor recreation has been experiencing a boom in the past several years. While land managers and outdoor enthusiasts scramble to figure out how to adapt to increased use, many communities get left behind, including Disabled communities. Improving access to outdoor recreation is often viewed as a way to (a) make the experience less authentic for outdoor enthusiasts, and (b) make it too easy for people to enjoy the outdoors, thus bringing in more people.
But improving accessibility benefits everyone. That includes access to information. While this book is written specifically for people who are disabled, chronically ill, or otherwise face access barriers to the outdoors, my hope is that non-disabled people will also recognize the importance of detailed, objective trail information. We all need information to decide whether or not to attempt a trail, and it should be easily available.
This book was written during the most challenging season in recent history — a pandemic, which closed many sites while also encouraging more people to get outdoors; record-breaking wildfires, which altered many places for the foreseeable future; and major snowstorms, which also left many areas with severe damage. For the first time, many people who typically do not have to think about access were faced with unclear information and questions about whether or not they would be able to access their favorite places. As more of these changes take place, the experience of non-disabled hikers is going to more closely resemble that of disabled hikers. It is the perfect time to think more about accessibility in the outdoors, and who better to learn about access from than Disabled people?
I’ve always loved nature, but it took a long time for me to feel comfortable doing outdoor recreation. A lack of information that met my needs, limited understanding and acceptance of disability in the outdoors, and not seeing any other disabled people represented in the community all contributed to feeling excluded from outdoor recreation. It just didn’t feel like something that was meant for me. But nature has always offered a sense of belonging even when I felt excluded otherwise.”
— Excerpted from “The Disabled Hiker’s Guide to Western Washington and Oregon: Outdoor Adventures Accessible by Car, Wheelchair and on Foot.”