Health and Outdoors Initiative

Health and Outdoor Initiative Framework cover photo
Health and Outdoor Initiative Framework cover photo

In collaboration with Oregon Public Health Institute and the Willamette Partnership, the Oregon Office on Disability and Health is working to implement the Health and Outdoors Action Framework, which outlines strategies to accelerate positive health and conservation outcomes for all Oregonians by increasing the presence of, access to, and use of parks, nature, and the outdoors in communities facing inequities. The Oregon Health and Outdoors Initiative believes spending time outdoors in nature can improve human health, but not everyone has equal access to the outdoors, especially people with disabilities, communities of color and low-income communities.The recommendations in the framework focus on communities that experience health disparities, which is based on current research and evidence (see table 1 of Nature Contact and Human Health by Frumkin, et al), ideas from interviews and group-work sessions, and the experience of the planning team.

How is the Health and Outdoors Framework being implemented in the community and around the state?

Adaptive Camping: an outdoor equity initiative

Summer is the season for the outdoors and camping, and yet people living with disabilities are less likely to go camping and enjoy the great Oregon outdoors because of diverse environmental barriers. Specifically, the majority of Oregon’s camping facilities and outdoor recreation programs are not designed to accommodate people with disabilities. 

This is an example of how systemic barriers can contribute to the social isolation and poor health among the disability community. Many of the 950,000 Oregonians with disabilities encounter substantial and persistent barriers to participating in health promoting activities, and public health data (BRFSS) indicates that Oregonians with disabilities are at a greater risk of developing chronic and secondary conditions. Some of this risk is due to systemic barriers they face to engaging in healthy activities.

A team of partners and sponsors teamed up to change this and make Oregon State parks more accessible. The Oregon Office on Disability and Health and Oregon Spinal Cord Injury Connection convened partners Adventures Without Limits and Oregon Parks and Rec Department to develop an event that would showcase the outdoor enthusiasm that is alive-and-well in the disabilities communities, and the barriers they face to enjoying state parks. With the help of Health and Outdoor Initiative and the Oregon Office on Disability and Health at OHSU and generous sponsorship support from Oregon State Park Foundation and Health Share of Oregon, the team hosted an “adaptive” camping event at Milo McIver Park, September 22-23rd.

Ten members of the Oregon spinal cord injury community, their families and partners participated and agreed to be filmed throughout the weekend. This educational video has been screened to legislators, outdoor recreation industry leaders, policy makers, and other influential stakeholders in order to influence policy recommendations and future legislation that will increase funding to improve access and accessible programming to Oregon State parks. 

We want to thank all our partners and sponsors for making this event, the video, and the systemic change we hope to effectuate, possible.  Oregon State Parks Foundation gave a generous donation of $5000 and Health Share of Oregon generously donated $1000. These funds offset participant costs and paid trained adaptive recreation technicians to support the weekend. Adventures Without Limits managed all the logistical support and volunteers, including setting up and tearing down camp, hosting the adaptive kayaking trip, providing camping equipment, and cooking our delicious meals. Oregon State Parks and the Milo McIver park rangers transformed a group site to be maximally accessible by leveling surfaces, installing a powerchair charging station, purchasing and installing a mat table in the rest rooms, removing the benches from several picnic tables to make them wheelchair accessible, and installing an amazing fire pit. The Health and Outdoors Initiative managed all the photography, filming, and interviewing and will be producing the video. Our office and Oregon Spinal Cord Injury Connection convened the partners, secured funding, recruited participants and managed communications.

PDX Summer Handcycling Series Summary

two handcyclists at riding around Portland International Raceway during the PDX Summer Handcycling Series
Two handcyclists at riding around Portland International Raceway during the PDX Summer Handcycling Series

People with disabilities face many barriers to engage in recreation and exercise, which can have a long-term adverse effects on their health. This is evidenced by Oregon 2015 Behavioral Risk Surveillance System data, which reveals that 32% of people with disabilities reported not exercising in the last 30 days and 39% reported having a BMI >30. Oregonians with disabilities are three times as likely to experience diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer compared to people not reporting a disability.

Problem Statement/Challenge: Handcycling is a fun recreation and exercise option that is often considered accessible and inclusive for riders who live with mobility impairments. Unfortunately, handcycling has inherent barriers that can make it an infeasible option for many. Significant barriers that prevent it from being universally inclusive include:

  • Handcycles are expensive

  • It is difficult transfer in and out of handcycles and riders often need assistance

  • Riding on or along roads can be dangerous, especially for those with limited mobility and strength, and

  • Transporting handcycles in and out of vehicles is physically and logistically challenging, making spontaneous group rides difficult to coordinate.

Program Action: Adaptive Sports Northwest’s  popular PDX Summer Handcycling program eliminates all of these barriers by offering 12 weeks of free handcycling in a safe location with skilled volunteers to facilitate transfers. Unfortunately, in 2017 Adaptive Sports Northwest handcycle program experienced a funding cut from one of its principle partners, threatening to eliminate the program coordinator. The Oregon Office on Disability and Health partnered with Oregon Public Health Institute’s Health and Outdoors Initiative to secure $10,000 grant for the 12-week summer program. Results/Impact Accomplishment: 100 unique individuals with disabilities served, over 240 hours of riding, 95% of people surveyed said they felt better after their ride than before.

Sustaining Success: Adaptive Sports Northwest is headed into its 14th year of this program. It continues to be popular and add bikes and volunteers to its fleet.

Fifty handcyclist lining up at the Portland International Raceway startline at the beginning of a PDX Summer Handcycling Program
Fifty handcyclist lining up at the Portland International Raceway startline at the beginning of a PDX Summer Handcycling Program

Roadmap to the Outdoors

The Roadmap to the Outdoors is Governor Kate Brown and First Gentleman Dan Little's initiative to increase connections to the outdoors for all Oregonians.

By engaging a wide swath of stakeholders and community activists, this initiative is set to chart barriers that exist to experiencing the joy and health benefits of the Oregon outdoors, especially by the most marginalized communities. Secondly, the Roadmap to the Outdoors workgroup is developing solutions to expand access to more Oregonians through innovative partnerships and programs. 

Oregon Office on Disability and Health is supporting this effort to improve the health and quality of life of all Oregonians, especially people with disabilities, through the adoption of the policy, program, system, and environmental change recommendations of the Health and Outdoor Initiative Framework that are inclusive and promote accessibility of Oregon's natural outdoors.

Oregon Outdoor Education 

In November 2016, Oregon voters approved Ballot Measure 99, which funded Outdoor School programming for 50,000 Oregon fifth- or sixth-grade students. In July of 2017 the legislature approved $24 million for the program's first two years.

Under the leadership of the OSU Extension Service, the Oregon Office on Disability and Health is working in collaboration with schools, partners, and communities, to support the statewide Outdoor School program that enriches 5th and 6th graders' educational experience through hands-on activities in an outdoor setting.

Oregon Office on Disability and Health is offering technical assistance and connections from the disability community to ensure that all ODE curriculum and policy, program, system, and environmental changes of the Oregon Outdoor Education Program are inclusive and accessible to all Oregon students who choose to participate, as well as teachers and support staff.