Just about every time we’ve attended a ride organized for motorized recreation, there has been someone who suffers from a physical disability who chooses motorized recreation as their preferred way to access the public benefits of outdoor recreation on public land. From veteran groups providing therapy to the wounded and those suffering from PTSD, to retirees who have aged into a disability after spending a lifetime exploring their favorite places, to those who have been blindsided by accident or disease, and to those whose loved ones suffer from chronic lifelong mental and physical disability it is no surprise that an organization like BlueRibbon Coalition who fights for outdoor recreation for all would cross paths with the millions of Americans who choose motorized forms of outdoor recreation because these forms of recreation are their only choice.
In the 2001 case, Black Sands Beach v. Pool, BlueRibbon Coalition and other litigants challenged a BLM decision to prohibit motorized access to Black Sands Beach in Northern California. We were unsuccessful in these claims, and the current policy of the BLM and other federal agencies is that as long as they close areas to all motorized users they aren’t discriminating against those with disabilities. This unenlightened policy doesn’t capture the sentiment that we often hear from the disabled, that they do in fact feel discriminated against. The glaring blind spot of this policy is that it doesn’t recognize that areas closed to motorized use can be enjoyed by the able-bodied in almost all cases. The disabled find this to be discriminatory because it excludes them from receiving public benefits available to others but not to them solely because of their disability.
There is another case working its way through the court system by Rainer Huck that makes similar allegations of discrimination, and we are watching the case closely and are eager to see how it turns out. You can learn more about this case at http://saveourpubliclands.net. He is fighting the case pro se and could certainly use any help from the motorized recreation community.
However, as the number of disabled Americans continues to grow and the number of acres where motorized access is restricted continues to increase, it is time to finally reverse the systematic discrimination against those with disabilities that is entrenched in public land management agencies at all levels of government. Unfortunately, we can’t rely completely on the courts to deliver access justice to those who are discriminated against by restrictive land-use designations.
We have substantial plans in the works to correct this injustice, but there is an important opportunity happening right now that we shouldn’t ignore. At the beginning of his term, President Biden issued an Executive Order that focuses on addressing “entrenched disparities in our laws and public policies,” and mandates a “comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.” Americans with Disabilities are listed as a group that has been historically underserved and marginalized.
The Department of Interior is accepting public comment on how it should implement this Executive Order until Nov. 18th. Please make your voice heard to let the Secretary of the Interior know that road closures and motorized restrictions discriminate towards every American who is mobility impaired. Roads and trails on public lands are necessary to help uproot this pernicious form of discrimination.