Editor’s Note: I recently received an e-mail from Simon Mulholland, the visionary behind Pony Access, a service that opens the United Kingdom’s natural environment to everyone. I’ve decided to support his efforts to bring greater attention to this program. It will open new landscapes of the world to both you and me, and it is something I approach with a passion for greater access. Simon and I are working to organize a trip to explore 100-mile South Downs Way trail in the South of England later this year. I’ll use WheelchairTravel.org to shine a light on this incredible new opportunity, in the hopes that other national parks in Britain and around the world will take note. To learn more about Pony Access, read Simon’s guest blog post below.
Traditional wheelchair access is all about ramps and lifts and tarmac. It relies on modifying the environment to make it wheelchair accessible. It ignores the countryside because the countryside, if you modify it, isn’t the countryside any longer.
This view is reinforced by the comments of Hannah Cockcroft on Countryfile as reported by John Craven:
On the royal edition of Countryfile, guest-edited by Prince Charles, the Paralympian star Hannah Cockcroft showed me that even on a country park track designed with wheelchairs in mind there are snags such as steps, boggy spots and fences hiding the view. ‘Hurricane Hannah’, who won two gold medals in her racing chair at London 2012, told me: “We have to accept that some areas are simply out of bounds if you’re disabled and no one wants the countryside to be concreted over with paths. But many places could do better.”
Today the South Downs Way is completely wheelchair accessible. No concrete has been poured, no boggy bits have been drained, nothing has been cut or modified. The countryside remains completely undisturbed. The only change is that people who use wheelchairs can enjoy all of the South Downs Way – thanks to Ponies saddled with wheelchair accessible chariots. No more sitting in the car park dreaming. Pony Access allows wheelchair user to explore Britain’s southern countryside — in a manner that is easy, safe and green, from Beachy Head to Winchester.
Andy Gattiker, the South Downs Way National Trail Officer, was the driving force to make the South Downs Way the first Inclusive National Trail, not just in England, but globally. His support and enthusiasm will change the way people with disabilities see the countryside. No more regretting that you can’t visit Blackcap, Firle Beacon, Devil’s Dyke or Old Winchester Hill. You can. And you can visit all the bits in between. You can watch butterflies, skylarks or hang gliders. you can look for fossils, walk the dog or see Sussex Surrey and Hampshire laid out for your inspection.
This isn’t a horse or pony based activity, this is all about access. The pony provides the best all terrain propulsion system. Incredible traction, awesome torque, voice activated control systems, just not the sort of horsepower that inspires Jeremy Clarkson. The iBex Saddlechariot pony drawn vehicle is totally modern, totally safe, and designed from scratch to be wheelchair accessible. It takes any wheelchair, powered or manual, across anything. In addition it can carry people who don’t bring their own chair. So if you have mobility issues, but don’t use a wheelchair, it provides full access. It even works for people who have no mobility problems at all. It is an access system that provides access for anyone, anywhere.
For more information about hiring a pony at the South Downs Way, visit www.ponyaccess.com. Keep an eye on this blog for the latest on WheelchairTravel.org’s involvement in a planned tour of the national park later this year.