Benefits of the outdoors to people with learning disabilities

boys enjoy sandwichesIt is generally recognised that people with learning disabilities are more likely to have poor health, be socially isolated and have little money. The outdoors provides an ideal way of improving quality of life - more opportunity to be active, to develop new interests, to participate in public life, to meet others. And mostly at little or no cost.

The Government policy paper `Valuing People Now  - a three-year strategy for people with learning disabilities' (January 2009) identifies the following priorities:

"…better health for people with learning disabilities is a key priority. People with learning disabilities want to lead ordinary lives and do the things that most people take for granted."

"…we know that people with learning disabilities are less likely to make journeys than non-disabled people because of transport difficulties."

"…people with learning disabilities are often not connected to their communities or given meaningful vocational, social, leisure or learning activities."

These priorities can all be met by providing more and better opportunities for people with learning disabilities to access and engage with the outdoors.

What we've learnt from consulting with people with learning disabilities

We have worked closely and consulted widely with people with learning disabilities, special school teachers, families and carers about the difficulties they face when planning to visit and enjoy the outdoors. These range from the cost of transport to a lack of accessible activities. The same issues were also a main feature of the research carried out by the `Every disabled child matters campaign' 2008, demonstrating that children with disabilities want more places to go and more things to do.

Questionnaire research carried out by the Sensory Trust (500 respondents) explored the importance for people with learning disabilities of going outdoors, their preferences and frustrations. We found that individuals do want more opportunities to go outdoors; money is often a problem especially regarding transport; and if they do not go outdoors they miss it.

These examples demonstrate that various consultations have identified the same needs. Our Food Tastes Better Outdoors project has been designed to address these needs in the following ways:

  1. Health - improving health by encouraging exercise and healthy eating.
  2. Isolation - reducing feelings of isolation by encouraging the use of community facilities such as parks, and participation in ordinary activities such as picnics.
  3. Finances  - providing information on healthy eating that is also inexpensive and promote low-cost opportunities to go outdoors and enjoy green spaces.

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