Days before a Higbee Hikers’ event, Kait Whiteside ventures out solo to scope out the accessibility of the trails ahead. She looks to see if the terrain and amenities are well suited for Max Higbee Center’s group of youth and adults with disabilities. Kait is determined to provide access to recreation for people with an array of accessibility needs.
Outdoor recreation is often inaccessible to people with disabilities, but disability advocates like Kait are determined to break down the barriers that still exist. There are many aspects of hiking, like terrain, pathway width, incline, and bathrooms that may not be accessible to people with disabilities. Kait expresses that, “there’s a lot of room for improvement to make those spaces more accessible to more individuals and specifically to individuals with disabilities… recognizing that it’s not accessible to everybody based on the transportation and getting there, or the trails themselves not being wide enough, or smooth enough, or a low enough grade for somebody in a wheelchair to be able to access.” Kait and the Max Higbee Center (MHC) are committed to providing everyone with the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful trails of Whatcom County.
Max Higbee Center not only provides hiking events but also many opportunities to experience a wide range of other recreation and community based activities. Every month, their calendar is filled with social and recreational opportunities for their members. They join together, in person or virtually, for events on the overarching topics of art, health, skills, music, and games. All of the MHC “programming is designed to improve health and to create opportunities for personal enjoyment and growth, and to really create a sense of belonging in this community.” Kait and the MHC are “committed to recreation and social opportunities for people with developmental disabilities.” Kait recognizes there aren’t many opportunities for community access and for recreation after school, so these programs allow their members “to just simply be themselves and enjoy time with their friends and accessing the community.”
While working at MHC, Kait has not only realized the importance of accessibility but has blossomed as an advocate and ally of the disability community. Kait shares what accessibility means to her; “it means that a community is fully welcoming to each and every person in its community. And I argue that there is no community if you aren’t welcoming each person of the community… if some people do not feel welcomed or cannot access their community, then you don’t have a community.” Kait goes further in mentioning that we must “include as many voices as we can, especially the voices of marginalized communities, and especially the voices who will be really impacted by policy… especially people with disabilities… some of these policy decisions that will greatly impact them.” Ultimately, when accessibility is incorporated into design, it ends up benefiting everyone else.
In hopes of providing MHC’s services to more people, the nonprofit just completed a capital campaign funding the construction of their new home building. Kait mentions that MHC formerly “didn’t have the physical space to be able to meet the needs in our community, and to open our doors to all the people who wanted to access our programs.” Now that they have a bigger space, they are working on eliminating the long waiting list of people wanting to become members. Kait says that, “We’re so grateful for that facility. And I know that we’ll continue to use it more and more, and we’ll be able to really grow and flourish there.”
There are many ways to support the Max Higbee Center. If you’d like to help MHC continue to grow, you can donate here or check out how to get involved. For some fun with beer and supporting a good cause, join MHC for April Brews Day in August 2021!
If you are looking to incorporate accessibility into your community, reach out to Wandke Consulting. We empower leaders to become advocates for the disability community through our disability inclusion training services.