The two organizations are in the midst of 12 days of hiking in New York with teams consisting of people with and without disabilities.
NEW YORK – Not every hiking trail in the world is accessible for people with disabilities, but don’t tell that to Friends of Access Israel (FAISR) and Paratrek. They simply don’t agree.
The two organizations, which have already accompanied four people with paraplegia to reach the not-so-accessible top of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, are in the midst of 12 days of hiking in New York with teams consisting of people with and without disabilities.
The USA treks (August 1 to 3 and 8 to 11) are taking place in Rockefeller State Park in Pleasantville, New York (USA). Teams from Israel and Delaware, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Florida and New York in the United States are participating in hikes that vary in level of difficulty. Each day’s hiking adventure is led by a person with a disability.
August 1 is Team Colton, August 2 is Team Alan, August 3 is Team Fred and August 4, the only day taking place in New York City’s Central Park, is Team Paratrek, named after the trekker vehicle that assists people with physical disabilities to access rugged terrains. August 9 to 11 is Team Chapel Haven, in honor of hike participants from Chapel Haven in New Haven, Connecticut (USA), a nationally accredited transitional living program founded in 1972 and devoted to teaching adults with cognitive disabilities and social disabilities to live independent and productive lives.
James A. Lassner, Executive Director of FAISR, refers to the hike as the “FAISR Universal Expedition – USA Trek #1,” with the hashtag, #AccessibleTogether. Lassner notes, “The hike/trek capitalizes on team members’ respective physical strengths, mental toughness and diverse abilities.”
The word “Universal” is meaningful and intentional. “Universal’ is the concept of planning in advance to build events, schools, workplaces and technology so they are usable by a wide range of people, regardless of age or disability status. While universal design promotes access for individuals with disabilities, it also benefits everyone. Universal has added meaning because the word “universal” contains the letters ‘USA’ and the word ‘Israel.’”
Colton Robinson, an 11-year-old model who was born with spina bifida, is the namesake for Team Colton. When Colton was five years old he was a finalist for a “Cutest Kid” contest for Parents Magazine and was signed by a modeling agency in NYC. He was the first model signed to this agency’s diversity division. Colton has modeled for Tommy Hilfiger, Runway of Dreams, Toys R Us, Target, Lands End and many other companies. He was also the first child that uses a wheelchair to model in New York Fashion Week.
“Colton is currently a model for Target stores both online and at their various USA locations. More importantly he is a fine model of being a perfect gentleman. We have a lot to learn from him!” says Lassner.
The hike’s first day marked the US debut of the Paratrek Trekker, the brainchild of Israeli inventor Omer Zur. On his post-army trip many years ago, Zur wanted to hike in Turkey with his father, a person with quadriplegia as a result of fighting in the Sinai during the Six Day War. Zur soon realized that he had to come up with a suitable device that can handle off-road hiking without taking away his father’s independence. The simple-looking yet highly sophisticated Paratrek trekker can successfully traverse through rough and rocky terrain, steep inclines, narrow paths, over sand, boulders, rock and gravel.
The Trekker successfully navigated Kilimanjaro with people with paraplegia less than two years ago.
“We are thrilled to debut our trekker at the FAISR Universal Expedition in New York. Our trekker has made it to 19,341 feet of Mount Kilimanjaro with FAISR, the Dead Sea in Israel which is the lowest place on earth and many other sites and trails around the world,” said Zur. “Our vision is to make it possible for individuals, families and groups to choose for themselves if, when, and where they wish to enjoy the great outdoors. As we introduce our trekker, we are confident that National and State parks will be interested in them as they will enhance accessibility at each of their venues.”
Fred Maahs Jr, a wheelchair user who is also chief operations officer for Travel for All and editor of Melange, Accessibility for All magazine, is heading up Team Fred on Day 3.
“Travel for All is proud to be a partner of Friends of Access Israel and to assist with the travel arrangements for the Faisr Universal Expedition. Our missions align – we both believe that the world should be accessible and inclusive so that all people can explore and experience its beauty and wonders.”
Future hikes and treks will take place mostly in Israel with some events taking place in the United States. The ultimate goal is to make specific trails in both countries accessible for everyone.
Friends of Access Israel, together with its collaborative partner, Access Israel, strive to improve accessibility and inclusion globally for people with disabilities and the elderly via advocacy, education and inclusion.
“With each improvement we empower them to live self-determined lives enabling them to work, travel, study and consume with dignity, equality and maximum independence,” reports FAISR’s Lassner.