Monday, July 18, 2022

Accessibility Review: Walsingham Park

Accessibility Grade: A
I've been a power wheelchair user since the age of three, so you can say that I've become pretty good at sniffing out things like accessibility. Whether you're looking for a great place to hang out this summer, or you're searching for a spot to hang out once the weather eventually cools off, this park has a lot to offer. Walsingham Park offers a number of amenities. Paired with the overall accessibility of the place, this park stands is great for the entire family.

Visible in the picture above, which showcases the park entrance, extra-wide paths wind their way through the 354 acres that make up Walsingham Park. Since these walkways are also smooth, they are ideal for wheelchair users, hand cyclists, and people who use different kinds of mobility devices. While there's plenty of room for three wheelchairs users to stroll side-by-side, cyclists zoom through these paths at high speeds. If you're visually impaired, it would be a good idea to stick to the right side of the sidewalk. In the instance where you may take up both side of the sidewalk, be ready to move out of the way for cyclists.
As you make your way through the park, you'll pass a number of parking lots. In case of an emergency, make sure to pick a space that will have the shortest travel distance for you. That way, if anything may happen to your mobility device(s), you won't be too far from your vehicle. Bathrooms are stationed by these lots, all of which should be fashioned with accessible stalls. In this image, Kyle's blue Toyota Sienna is parked in an accessible space. Its rear passenger door is opened, and the lift is deployed. In the background is one of the park's public restrooms. It is brownish in color, covered in stones that range in color from tan to grey.
We ended up parking close to a few of the pavilions that are located within the park. These individually-covered spaces contain a number of picnic tables and are a great place to get out of the Florida sun. On nice days, these areas make great venues for hosting get-togethers like birthday parties and family reunions. The path is plenty wide for a wheelchair user to navigate, and might be able to accommodate two wheelchairs side-by-side. It leads through a patch of grass, in between a few trees, and ends at a pavilion. It's decorated in the same style as the bathroom, with stones that range from tan to grey, and houses two rows of picnic tables.
If you're searching for a place to spend time with your pup, you may want to try out the dog park, which is located within Walsingham Park. It features a fence that stands about five feet tall. In front of it is a water fountain that has sculptures of two dogs, one which is sitting down, while the other is lying down. There is a brown sign behind it which lists the dog park's rules.
The playground is close to the dog park. In this picture, you can see that the path ends at the playground's entrance, which may pose a problem for some manual wheelchair users. There were a number of leaves on the ground, which made it difficult to determine whether there were pockets of soft sand. Since soft sand causes manual and power wheelchairs to get stuck, they can be hazardous and dangerous for wheelchair users. This area of the park was the only area that appeared to have some accessibility issues, though we didn't test this out completely. 
What's nice about this park is that it's paths take visitors through wooded areas, like the one in this picture, which are usually inaccessible for wheelchair users and people who use mobility equipment. In areas where trees grow over these wide sidewalks, they offer a bit of shade from the sun. It's a great way to be in nature, without the added worry that your wheelchair will get stuck. In this picture, it's clear that Kyle has plenty of room to comfortable and safely drive his wheelchair along this paved path. To his left are a few ferns and some grass, where there are trees to his right and in front of him.
There are a few areas of the trail that'll take you alongside Walsingham Lake. At 100 acres, there are a wide variety of aquatic plants and animals that call this park home. There are even a few gazebos and docks that are a great place to relax and watch the wildlife. In this picture, Kyle is on a concrete path, patrtially covered by the shade of a large tree. To his right, a tiny gazebo stands at the edge of the lake. A man is reading there.
Aside from the playground area, Walsingham Park is very accessible. Though there aren't a ton of flashy features, the scenery is beautiful and offers a decent amount of shade. Depending on the season, I imagine that Walsingham Lake is a great destination for bird watchers, and other wildlife enthusiasts. In this final picture, Kyle is shown looking out over Walsingham Lake. To his right is a dense forest, while the lake is to his left. There are some beautiful reeds that dot the shoreline, which have tiny purple flowers at their tops.


Author & Producer:
Kyle Romano

Photographer:
Luis Rodriguez

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Accessibility Review: Heritage Village

Accessibility Grade: C-
Within the Florida Botanical Gardens is a section called "Heritage Village." True to form, rolling into this park is like taking a time machine back to historical Florida. However, regarding the park's accessibility and though the presentation is authentic and educational, there were times when it felt too faithful to the inaccessibility of yesteryear. Shall we take a roll down memory lane? 

*NOTE*

This review merely reflects the time that we spent at the park. In the future, its accessibility may improve, which would then change its Accessibility Score. In the header image, Anthony, Sydney, and Kyle have parked their wheelchairs along an asphalt-colored path. Behind them is an old house, elevated above the ground with concrete blocks.

As usual, we begin in the parking lot. Heritage Park is connected to the Florida Botanical Gardens; however, since the park is so large, it takes a long time to do so. Therefore, it would typically make sense to park in the lot specifically created for Heritage Park... right? This makes sense in most cases but, as you can see in the picture above, the accessible parking is extremely limited and largely inaccessible for wheelchair users. Since my van is a side-entry, I need extra the extra space that accessible parking spots offer. Because neither of these spaces including an unloading zone, or even enough room, I had to park at the end of the lot and unload on the grass. As such, somebody still ended up parking next to me. It's a good thing that somebody was with me, or I wouldn't have been able to get back into my van.

After navigating the bumpy parking lot, we went through the gift shop to get into the park. Here, there was a store that showcased some historical artifacts and also offered some items for sale. This picture shows the entrance to the park. A brick path extends to the parking lot, which will give wheelchair users a slight bump. For those with visual impairment, be mindful of this to avoid tripping. Directly to the left and right of this path, wide enough for two wheelchair users to fit side-by-side, is an ankle-high brick wall. There are is a blue sign for Heritage Village, and one pointing forward with the words "Gift Shop" written on it. To the left are five, plastic flowers that stand about four feet tall, and are different colors. The entrance to this gift shop is seen ahead, which has a push button for an automatic door.

Once you go through a lobby area, you'll find the gift shop. In it are a variety of items that are reminiscent of old-timey Florida. In the first image, there is a sign hanging from the ceiling that reads, "Pinellas Passport: Your Ticket Through Time." To the left, there is some old machinery. To the right, there is a large alligator head that visitors can pass through. In between are a variety of historical artifacts that are on display. The second image shows a different section of the shop. Here, there are a number of items that are for sale, including local honey, books on Florida history, kitchenware, and more. Because tables and other items are spread through out the store, it's fairly accessible for people who use wheelchairs and other mobility aids. The area is mostly clear of other items or debris, which also makes it easier to navigate for people who are blind and low-vision.
When you get into the park, you'll notice a number of paths that appear to be asphalt, which are actually hollow and made out of rubber. In certain places, they feel a bit bouncy to drive over. These paths led to a lot of the houses and other buildings on the property, but there were a few that could only be accessed by driving on the grass. In this picture, Kyle is driving his power wheelchair on a path, leading alongside a brown building. To the right is an area of patchy grass, with some trees.
Since there are so many large trees in the park, there are also a lot of roots that partially stick out of the ground. In a number of areas, these roots have crept underneath some of the paths. The result is an extremely bumpy surface, where the roots have pressed up against the rubber. These areas can actually be really dangerous for wheelchair users. Actually, one of my friends, who is also a power wheelchair user, got stuck on a bump on the path. It's a good thing that Luis was with us, since he was able to get her chair free. Without his help, who knows what would've happened! This image shows a picture of Kyle's front caster, poised in front of a bump in the rubber path. A crack is visible, where the rubber looks as if it is splitting apart.
The buildings in Heritage Village are obviously old. True to form, some of these buildings are inaccessible to wheelchair users. Though this isn't a huge deal, it does feel a bit unfair that these areas can still be accessed by people who can walk up stairs. Here is a log cabin, which has a flight of stairs leading up to its porch, where a man sits in a rocking chair.
Here is Kyle, looking over his right shoulder toward a green house. There are two, separate flights of stairs, one leading to the right, towards a door and a small porch. The one on the left leads to an extremely narrow, white screen door.
This image shows Kyle in front of a white house. He's facing away from the camera, but is turning his head towards it. He is in front of a set of steps, which he can't climb in his power wheelchair. There is a rocking chair on the house's porch.
There are a few restrooms in the park. As shown in this picture, entering the bathroom may be difficult for some wheelchair users. After opening the first door, there is another door immediately to the right. Since it must be pulled, this may add another level of difficulty. The good news is that, once you're inside, there is an accessible stall that should accommodate wheelchair users. The restroom is located in a building made of dark, fading wood.
Further into the park, you'll come across an old grocery store. Painted in greyish blue with yellow trim, this building is accessible for wheelchair users. If you want to explore inside this building, you may need some assistance opening the door. Once inside, there is a decent amount of room, making it pretty easy to get around.
Here is a two-story house, which is white with navy trim. A rubber path wraps around it, to give you a glimpse of the entire building. There is a picnic table in the distance, under a section of trees. There's a stretch of ground that is worn, but traversable for power wheelchair users. It may be difficult for manual chair users. It can be taken to see a few more houses.
Taking a bumpy, brick path, you'll find the McKay Creek Boat Shop. Aside from the path leading to it, the inside of the boat house is very spacious, and has plenty of room to fit a number of wheelchair users. Though it was closed during our time at the park, you'll find a few wooden boats inside, and some other, nautical memorabilia. Also, there is usually a guide, who will tell you some nautical history, and of the methods used to build wooden boats. Kyle is standing in front of a ramp, which leads to the entrance to the McKay Creek Boat Shop. 
Lastly, we came across a schoolhouse. Since there is a ramp leading up to the front door, this space is easy for wheelchair users to access. Once inside, there is plenty of room, and a number of artifacts that teach visitors about old schooling and school houses. The schoolhouse is white and made of wood.

While Heritage Village offers a wealth of information regarding Florida history, it isn't the most accessible park. Aside from a few buildings, most of the park was difficult to get through. At times, it was even dangerous. If you'd like to visit this park, and you either use a wheelchair or a mobility aid, I highly recommend that you go with at least one able-bodied friend. Otherwise, I'd just stick to the Florida Botanical Gardens.


Author & Producer:
Kyle Romano

Photographer:
Luis Rodriguez

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