Many people, for many reasons, feel like camping is no longer a viable vacation option for them, which makes us sad here at Four Corners Algonquin.
Although some will happily spend every weekend packing up a tent, all of their supplies and driving deep into the forest to sleep on the ground, there are many people for multiple reasons who find camping exhausting, even if it’s their deep desire to spend a night in the bliss of nature.
The simple truth is that our abilities change as we grow and age, even when no specific disability is present. Our goal is to create a space that is accessible to the widest possible range of abilities, across ages and stages of life. We have hosted families with newborn babies, and octogenerians. And we try to meet everyone where they are at in terms of ability.
Our mission drives us: We want to remove as many barriers as possible to help as many people as possible to reconnect with the great outdoors. You can learn more about us, our vision and values here.
In this blog, we invite you to learn about:
Our belief in Universal Design
How accessible our built environments are
How accessible our outdoor environments are
How we support diversity and inclusion
The accessibility needs we can meet here at Four Corners
What is Universal Design?
We believe in universal design.
Universal design looks at the built environment and asks how we can make it so that people with a wide range of abilities can use the space simultaneously and seamlessly.
Standards for accessibility and universal design are abundant in Canada - many minimum standards are built right into our building codes. There are also organizations like the Rick Hansen Foundation that train people in best practices and have developed ways to audit indoor spaces to help people proactively achieve accessibility.
In terms of our operation, the flexibility we offer guests is our key to accessibility. We do camping and glamping, but it’s not the expensive, fancy hotel-in-the-woods kind of glamping. We call it ready-to-camp. That means that for a price comparable to a motel, we can provide all of the equipment for you and take the heavy lifting out of your vacation. All you have to do is show up and enjoy your time.
How Accessible are Your Built Environments?
Our brand new comfort station is a great example of how construction minimum standards help improve built environment accessibility. We have four gender neutral bathrooms and two gender neutral showers. These units are designed to meet Canadian Building Code standards for accessibility, which means there is plenty of room for support persons and mobility devices. The dispensers inside (soap, sunscreen, feminine hygiene etc) all dispense free product. Although they are manually operated (push) they are installed at chair accessible heights. This spring (2022) we will be installing concrete around the comfort station to make getting into and out of the rooms easier. Due to the high electrical needs, we are not able to provide automatic door openers at this time. Our comfort station is accessible to almost everyone independently. For persons with higher needs, it is accessible with support.
How Accessible are Your Outdoor Environments?
Constructing outside environments, on the other hand, and specifically camping environments, feels like the wild west. Our tents for example, are not covered by Ontario building codes.
We’ve been looking very hard for information about how to build an accessible ready-to-camp campground. While we have found some examples to turn to, and have been able to adapt building codes in some other places, I feel like our achievements have all been through watching, trying, revising according to feedback and trying again, and we know it's not perfect. But we are determined to get better year by year.
What kind of accessibility needs can Four Corners meet?
First, I want to say, we do not ask people about their accessibility needs - our goal is to achieve a level of accessibility that means people can be independent here. In a perfect world, we would never need to know what different accessibility needs we’re satisfying.
At the same time, we never shy away from accessibility conversations either, because talking about it is half the job of helping people feel welcome and included. We know this from first hand experience. And we are delighted to say that we have lots of guests who initiate those conversations with us.
Here are some examples:
We had two elderly sisters visit, one who had Alzheimers. The sister who booked with us confided that they had spent many happy times camping as young girls and her sister could access those memories still, and she desperately wanted to try camping again. But approaching their eighties, the work of camping was too much for her. She was delighted to learn that we have the tents already set up with comfortable beds. All she had to do was show up and spend time with her sister.
We have had people visit with support animals and support persons.
We can provide battery power to people who sleep with CPAP machines.
We had a single mom visit with her teenage son who was on the autism spectrum. She asked lots of questions in advance, and was delighted to learn that she could spend all her time with her son instead of setting up and tearing down a campsite, which would have been too much for her to do while caring for her son.
We received a guest who used a combination of wheelchair and walker. We recommended they try the Chickadee tent, which is quite low to the ground and the closest tent to the comfort station. Once inside the tent, the floor is flat plywood. There is enough room for a chair to maneuver at the foot of the bed in the standard layout, and we can shuffle the furniture if necessary to make rolling a chair up to the side of the bed achievable. Outside, the area is compacted and free of debris, but not a manufactured surface quality like concrete for example. While this arrangement met their needs, as a result of their feedback, this spring we will install a ramp to ease the transition on two very modest rises (one about 6 inches, and another that's about 2 inches) to make accessing the tent independently just a little bit easier.
The rest of the campground is your typical outdoors. All of our roadways and paths are gravel.
We also have a trail accessible wheelchair and a beach accessible wheelchair that we lend out at no charge. Our website is accessible, and we have a free app with accessibility features like compatibility with text to speech technology, including lists and links to accessible facilities and trails in Algonquin Park (marked 'easy').
So How Accessible are you Really?
This is a broad generalization, of course, but I would say that a person with a non-electric mobility device can navigate at least some of our spaces independently (by themselves) at least some of the time. Most people can access most spaces, most of the time with a support person. I would not recommend our spaces for persons who use motorized mobility devices at this time.
Specific safari tents are more appropriate than others, and we’re happy to help you choose. For example, our safaris are more accessible for people with higher needs than, say, our bubbles or pole tents.
If you have any questions about whether we can meet your specific needs, give us a call. We’ll be happy to talk with you honestly about our limitations.
How Accessible is Your Community?
I am really proud to say that our community is also rising to the challenge.
Our local business alliance has been successful in helping businesses access more than $500,000 in federal grants to make capital improvements to make local spaces more accessible. We have a local motel that just upgraded four suites with beautiful showers. Still others have improved accessibility through landscaping and automatic door installations.
If what we have doesn't suit, we are always happy to refer to our neighbouring businesses. And for anyone who is uncertain about whether our facility would work for their needs, we encourage you to call or drop by for a tour to see the place if you’re in the area anyway. Sometimes a conversation or a visit in person makes it easier to judge suitability. And we’re always happy for feedback on ways to improve.
We invite you to learn more about our accessibility efforts here.