A new research project is examining how blind and partially sighted people interact with the natural world, in order to improve the way we understand access needs to outdoor spaces for people with sensory disabilities. If you're an outdoorsy type or just enjoy a walk in the park, the University of Exeter would like your help.
Authored by Sarah Bell
Do you routinely spend time in nature, be it a garden, a park, the coast or further afield? Would you be interested in sharing your experiences as part of an academic study?
"Here at the University of Exeter, we’ve just started a project, called Sensing Nature, which is exploring how natural environments feature in the lives of people living with vision impairment. In the project, we’re hoping to understand how nature experiences might contribute to a sense of wellbeing and how this can change through the twists and turns of life.
Through a series of in-depth interviews, the project aims to promote greater awareness of people’s multisensory encounters with nature, as well as shed light on how and why people have negotiated barriers to access.
When we talk about 'nature' and ‘natural environments’, we’re casting a very wide net. We’ll be getting to grips with a broad range of settings, including back gardens, local parks, woodlands, countryside and coastlines. We’re also interested in more fleeting nature encounters that occur in people’s everyday routines.
We’d like to gain perspectives on how and why people’s feelings are linked to the environments around them and we’re keen to speak to a range of people in England, at any life stage, who live with congenital or acquired sight loss (as long as they’re over the age of 18).
Ultimately, we hope to understand how diverse forms of nature can be used to support wellbeing across the sensory spectrum. We want our findings to help people newly diagnosed with sight loss to overcome fears or anxieties about using these spaces.
Working closely with organisations such as the Design Council, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, the findings will enable us to recommend measures that can promote more positive experiences in nature, ensuring an inclusive approach to landscape design and accessibility that supports opportunities for adventure, immersion and meaningful connection."