Transcript

Amna Nawaz:  Virginia Rose, who has been using a manual wheelchair for more than 40 years, knows how difficult it can be to enjoy nature as a disabled person.

With her organization, Birdability, Rose finds ways to increase access to nature for people of all abilities and to help others find community.

Tonight, she offers her Brief But Spectacular take on finding independence while bird watching.

Virginia Rose, Founder and President, Birdability: When I started birding, and there were disabled people on the trail, I loved watching their faces make this — look like this when they saw a bird through binoculars or through a scope for the first time, this and then — Carolina wren, purple martins, lawn mower.

In 1973, I was 14 years old. I was riding my horse, rural, near my homestead. He spooked, I fell, and was paralyzed in that accident. And I have been in a manual wheelchair ever since.

In so many ways, I was exactly the same person. I was still fairly gregarious, still fairly interested and curious in the world around me and people. So, the only thing that I felt really changed was that I had to manage getting around in a wheelchair.

I think part of the beauty of nature is, this very experience of stopping and listening and giving yourself the time to be there, find the bird, identify it.

I think each of us has had an experience in nature when we have been alone. We’re not entertaining anybody, nor are we being entertained. I think it’s a very important experience, especially for people who have disabilities.

I always say that, when I’m alone in nature, I show up, because there isn’t anyone else there. Birdability is an organization that seeks to help people who have access challenges be outside in nature.

When I was introducing disabled people to birding, I focused on the things that would keep them from coming. And, of course, it’s going to be parking, and, of course, it’s going to be restrooms. I can’t tell you how many disabled people, when they saw me as the leader of this event, were so relieved.

I first started burning, and I was the only person in a wheelchair. That was not unusual to me at all. I feel like, my entire life, I have been the only person in a wheelchair.

Hear that? Warbler off to the right, chimney swifts above us.

I think one of the most important areas for people who have disabilities to explore is this idea of independence. You yourself are figuring out your environment. How do I get off the trail? How do I get back on the trail without help? And even if it’s the littlest accomplishment, you come home more empowered than you were when you left.

My name is Virginia Rose, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on finding independence in birding.

That was a scissor-tailed flycatcher.

(LAUGHTER)

Amna Nawaz: And you can watch more of our Brief But Spectacular videos online. That’s at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.