Accessibility at the UEC - Indoors and Out

Written by CJ Buhk
    Tuesday, 20 March 2018
Accessibility at the UEC - Indoors and Out

One of my favorite things is to roll into Riverside Park on a fall day and hear the crunch of leaves under my tires. From the paved oak circle to the crushed limestone path along the Milwaukee River, my power wheelchair and I are a team looking for everything that being in nature brings.

As an employee of the UEC, I'm super proud of our commitment to providing experiences that bring everyone as far into urban nature as they are willing to go. Together we've learned that sometimes all it takes to increase access to nature for people with disabilities is ingenuity, curiosity and a sense of adventure.

The path I'm crunching leaves on may not be paved or completely flat, but the limestone is steady enough for me to get close to the river's shore and the geese meandering along it.

Here are some of the things you'll find at the UEC. Whether inside or out, we have spaces you can enjoy.

A woman in a power chair, two women looking through binoculars all on a pressed limestone path

CJ's team from UEC's Green Birding Challenge (photo by Eric Meils)

At each of our branches you'll find parking, sidewalk level or ramped entrances and wheelchair accessible bathrooms. There are elevators at Riverside and Menomonee Valley; Washington Park is one floor.

From the second floor of the Riverside branch you can venture out onto the balcony and second story of the tower. If you use crutches, a cane or a walker please note that the tower floor is made of woven steel with small holes that can sometimes catch mobility devices (and stilettos!).

If you are a visitor with a visual impairment, be sure to ask the receptionist for a “Sensory Kit”. Designed to provide a hands-on tour using touch and smell rather than sight as sensory input, the kit combines information about the Center in braille with objects that capture the theme of each part of the tour. There's even a birding by ear guide. The kits were created by our Visitor Services team after Cheryl Orgas, Director of Audio and Braille Learning Enhancement (ABLE), expressed interest in partnering with us. In working with ABLE, the Visitor Services staff realized that some aspects of our branches were engaging and some were pretty discouraging for visitors who were visually impaired. Our team took the feedback to heart, participated in trainings with ABLE and developed this new way to experience our branches.

But don't stay inside, the real reason to visit the UEC is to get out into the urban natural areas we manage!

Two students and an education examine a piece of wood, comparing it to their chart.

Two students and an education examine a piece of wood, comparing it to their chart.

There are paved paths in Riverside, Washington and Three Bridges Parks and in the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum. Venture west of the Arboretum to find crushed stone and packed dirt paths along the Milwaukee River. These paths are rugged*, so use caution along this route.

Our Riverside Park branch is along the Oak Leaf Recreational Trail – a paved path that can connect you to 118 miles of off-road paved trails, park drives and municipal streets throughout Milwaukee.

Our Menomonee Valley branch is along the Hank Aaron State Trail - a paved, 12-mile continuous connection between the lakefront and Milwaukee's west end.

The UEC is always looking for ways to provide enhanced experiences in nature for people with disabilities. From our education team devising ways to engage students with visual impairments in outdoor science to Braille Literacy Services volunteering their time to help coach our volunteers and staff in sighted guiding to simply handing someone a map of trails they can explore on their own, we're providing a place for everyone to get outdoors. I encourage you to get out of your house and visit us!

* I have been informed by a friend who also uses a wheelchair that I am a "wimp" and that these paths aren't that rugged. Check them out for yourself using the map found here and tell me in the comments who's right.


CJ Buhk

CJ Buhk

In her role as Marketing Communications Coordinator, CJ Buhk encourages others to explore nature in the city. Her most vivid childhood memory is being at an Easter Seals summer camp and seeing the sun set opposite of the moon rise with the Milky Way flowing between them.

A fan of scifi and fantasy, CJ claims to have found "the one ring." We're not sure what that means.


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