Just consider: Over 1 in 4 of today's 20 year-olds will become disabled before they retire. One in eight workers will be disabled for five years or more during their working careers.
Outdoor careers are not risk-free. Fortunately there is a growing number of adaptive equipment, tools and work gear that may help you do your job and keep your career on track.
I haven't officially been classified as 'disabled', but I have experienced both temporary disabling knee injuries as well as longer term mobility issues. It has been difficult to find suitable equipment to enable me to continue my outdoor activities over multiple terrain types with minimal disruption.
I can only imagine the frustration of someone who becomes disabled in such a way that their dream of a natural resources occupation could be threatened. So lets find ways to overcome various disability obstacles.
If you've been disabled for a long time, you already know more than I do about adaptive gear. If you are new to disability, then you need to bring yourself up to speed on adaptive gear and how such equipment may increase your employability. You'll need to consider how any device you might buy would benefit you in both an office setting and any outdoor activity requirements.
Sometimes the adaptive devices are simple tweaks. A split keyboard and a trackball may minimize carpal tunnel wrist pain for office work. Similarly, for outdoor wrist-work work you might need a wrist brace. This is adapting to your day-to-day physical concerns. Devices like a rolling walker may make a temporary back injury heal up faster. Purchasing such items tends to be categroized as out-of-pocket expenses. Someone experiencing a lengthy debilitating illness or traumatic injury might need long-term, more expensive adaptations to continue in their chosen occupation.
It's likely that various rules regarding reimbursement for the purchase and use of disability equipment through state and federal programs will govern a lot of employee adaptive equipment purchase decisions. There are specific rules regarding the use of motorized devices on public lands that may also guide big ticket purchase decisions. For example, motorized wheelchairs designed for indoor and light outdoor use could be covered by a disability program (based on the rules), but motorized wheelchairs or scooters limited to only outdoor use would not be eligible for reimbursement through most disability equipment purchase programs. One way around this would be to purchase eligible equipment that can be re-purposed, or to write disability gear off taxes through 'unreimbursed employee business expenses.
Bottom line is: GET ADVICE! Talk to your disability advisor. Talk to your tax advisor. Talk to potential employers to see what might be covered under 'reasonable accomodation'. Find out what equipment you will need to do your job, both indoors and out, then budget for it.
If you have a substantial disability, and are working part-time or full-time, impairment-related work expenses (IRWE) are an often-overlooked source for major tax breaks. Since many kinds of adaptive equipment will have to be paid for 'out of pocket', be sure to discuss the issue of impairment related work expenses as related to unreimbursed employee business expenses with your tax preparer. The tax benefit to you could be substantial, making the aquisition of adaptive gear more manageable.
Sometimes the gear you need doesn't exist - yet. Tetra Society may be able to come up with a solution. Re-purposing items can generate some creative solutions for day-to-day probems. Sometimes you just have to think outside the box.
If you need 'reasonable accomodation' at work, then ask for it. It's your right, under both federal and state laws. Be a leader!
One of the best source of information for adaptive gear needed for outdoor careers in natural resources are disabled hunters, outdoor photographers, who have already sought out gear that works. Take advantage of the forums, chat rooms and blogs to post questions. Adaptive gear is hard to find, so share information with others who may be trying to solve specific challenges. Gear that is just a convenience for some people, may be a vital necessity for someone else.
If you work in the great outdoors, you may sometimes have to camp out overnight. If you are disabled, this may present some added challenges. Like everything else, success may depend upon excellent pre-planning and obtaining the gear that will actually work for you.
For overnight, some people will be able to use any type of tent. Others, like myself, won't be able to crawl into a mummy bag and then into a tiny tent. Heck, even setting a tent up can be challenging. There are different types of tents. Those that are typically used in car camping tend to be larger and heavier and used in campgrounds. Backpacking tents are light and portable.
There are numerous options in tents - from car camping tents, truck/SUV tents, or even tent-cot combinations. For wheelchair folks, some say the tent cot combinations work very well since you can transfer from chair to cot and back without going all the way to the ground. But the tent-trailer combinations like Jumping Jacks look very interesting for outdoor jobs on remote ranch locations or off logging roads. Do your research. You'll be able to find something that will work for you.
- Jumping Jack Jump-Up Tent Trailer
- Jumping Jack utility trailer has and dandy idea in a 'jump-up' tent configured so you can also haul ATVs and other gear. It's a pretty versatile system for outdoorsmen. Lots of possible applications, including family disaster preparedness or even a CERT team trailer.
- OpenRoad Outfitters
- This is a specialty outfit for motocycle camp trailers. It's possible that such a the tent trailer dsigned for motorcycles might also work in combination with the bigger all terrain scooters or possibly with an ATV. It's just something to think of in terms of creative adaptive gear. Consider if you can repurpose existing gear to your outdoor needs - ask them about the possibilities.
- Coleman Instant Tents
- For car camping, the Coleman Instant Tents comes in a variety of sizes. It really does set up fast with one or two people and take-down is also simple (see YouYube videos for examples). The new models seem to have changed the door configuration so that's something to check if you need to roll in a wheelchair or walker.
- OZ Tents
- Oz tents were designed for the Australian outback and seem very suitable for wheelchairs. It sets up really easily and may be just what you need. Watch the set-up video.
- Sportsman's Warehouse Tents
- Sportsman's Warehouse has a great selection of tents (as do many online outdoor stores). If you are lucky enough to have a store near you you'll be able to go in and talk over your needs with their staff.