Sunday, March 14, 2010

Accessibility Gardening Tips for People with Physical Limitations

I recently read a discussion about the use of raised beds to meet the needs of gardeners who have physical disabilities, including those who would need to garden from a wheelchair. Although the question that sparked the discussion related to installing raised beds in public parks, I immediately thought the information provided would be very helpful to anyone considering gardening on the grounds of a cancer center, health care facility, or elder-care residence.

I asked permission to reprint the resources and words of wisdom provided on this listserv discussion shared by Dave Wilson of King's Agriseeds in Ronks, PA.

Here are Dave's suggestions, followed by his list of suggested resources for further information:

• Primarily the major factors to consider are accessibility, space allowance, height and reach ranges and designing an accessible route especially for someone in a wheel chair. The size of the pathway between the garden beds needs to be accessible by a wheel chair so that a person in a wheelchair can turn around. There can’t be protruding objects or surfaces that would inhibit someone in a wheel chair and the surface path needs to be “improved” or hardened enough so that a person in a wheel chair would not get stuck as in a wet muddy soil.

• Beds need to be built up above the ground level with wooden sides to fortify them which then lets you raise the soil surface level up to a height that a person in a wheel chair can reach in and access.

• Other planting table beds can be adjusted to a height on a raised bedding table full of soil similar to what we may have in a green house wooden raised table bed that is used to start greens, but the height of the table has to be adjusted so that someone sitting in a wheel chair could reach into the table bed and work by reaching their arm in to seed, transplant, weeding or watering the plants etc.

• The following web site has many good resources listed:

• This link specifically about using raised garden designs and shows some pictures of these.

Also look into:

Adil, Janeen. ACCESSIBLE GARDENING FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES. Bethesda, ND: Woodbine House, 1994. RM 735.7 .G37 A35 1994

Chaplin, Mary. GARDENING FOR THE PHYSICALLY HANDICAPPED & ELDERLY. London: Batsford, 1980. RM 735.7 .G37 C42 1980

Please, Peter, editor. ABLE TO GARDEN: A PRACTICAL GUIDE FOR DISABLED AND ELDERLY GARDENERS. London: Batsford, 1990. RM 735.7 .P54 1990

Woy, Joann. ACCESSIBLE GARDENING: TIPS & TECHNIQUES FOR SENIORS & THE DISABLED. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1997. RM 735.7 .G37 W69 1997

(Photo: Example of a raised bed that is accessible for a person using a wheelchair)

In addition, I just stumbled onto this article, which gives many specifics about garden designs for people using wheelchairs. I especially liked their recommendation that the entire bed be raised with space underneath either for the person's knees or for storing gardening tools. The second recommendation that I really liked was including a chair or bench for a friend!

If anyone develops a Cancer Victory Garden™ at their cancer center or other health-care facility, I hope you take this information into consideration and find it useful. I was so weak and debilitated during my chemotherapy in 1984 and 1995 that I would have loved to have wheelchair accessible raised beds for gardening. I still remember trying to both plant and weed by lying on my side along some of our gardens, because I was too weak to sit up unsupported. I know your patients will thank you!

Cultivating health through a garden's nourishment of both body and soul,

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

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