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Signposts Along the Way

One of the best experiences I’ve ever had in a national park wasn’t necessarily because of the things people usually think of, like gorgeous views, wild nature, and friendly park staff. Rather, it was because of signs—that’s right, those things often considered “trail noise,” cluttering pristine nature, made the difference between a positive and negative experience for me.

I was on a quick trip through Redwood National and State Parks while traveling to another destination. I didn’t have much time to research trails, but I knew the parks offered a variety of options, so I took a chance on finding a trail that would be suitable for my needs. I stopped at the Prairie Creek Visitor Center and picked up a couple of brochures. I spoke with a volunteer about easy and accessible trails, and they gave me directions for the nearby loop trail. Unfortunately, even though I specifically asked about easy trails and told them I was disabled, they assumed I was a “young, healthy person” and suggested I take the longest loop.

Photo by Syren Nagakyrie

I set out on the trail, map in pocket, a little apprehensive but eager to spend time with the giant redwoods—they never fail to inspire humbled awe. To my great surprise, next to the classic trail head sign listing trail names and mileage was a new metal sign: Prairie Creek Trail (ADA Accessible Section), listing the trail length, elevation change, and typical grade, width, and surface of the trail. Similar signs were placed at each trail section and juncture point. I immediately felt more confident, knowing that I could make a decision at any point on the trail as to whether it would be safe for me to continue.

These signs are known as Trail Access Information (TAI) stations, and they are an important part of universal design for trails. You’re likely to see more of these signs popping up in the parks as assessments are completed, as they’re a fairly simple way to make trails more accessible. Providing information on the trail helps a variety of trail users, including the disabled, elderly, and those with children. Signs are most likely to be placed along high-traffic trails, so the impact on the trail experience is minimal; in fact, it has been shown to make the trail experience safer and more enjoyable.

Photo by Syren Nagakyrie

To be truly accessible, TAI signs need to be available in braille and audio description as well. While some informational resources are available for people who are blind or low vision and deaf or hard of hearing, there definitely needs to be more. Many National Park Service websites and publications aren’t optimized for screen or machine readers used by the blind, so having accessible information on the trail is especially important. 

You can help make TAI signs more common by supporting trail assessments in parks and letting park rangers and facilities staff know you would like TAI to be made available. Right now, people who are unaware of the benefits consider additional signage to have a negative impact on the user experience, but that is just not true, and the parks need to hear from those of us who support making the outdoors more accessible and inclusive for all.

Photo by Syren Nagakyrie

Header photo by Syren Nagakyrie

Syren Nagakyrie is the founder of Disabled Hikers, a community by disabled people for disabled people and allies. As someone with multiple invisible disabilities and chronic illnesses, they’ve found solace in nature since childhood, and shares stories of connection and belonging for people with disabilities while advocating for access and inclusion in the outdoors.

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