Mar 26, 2024 - News

Austin's Virginia Rose makes birding accessible

A photo of Virginia Rose in a field of bluebonnets holding her binoculars.

Virginia Rose on a birding trip this month. Photo: Courtesy of Jeff Patterson

Virginia Rose, a 64-year-old Austin resident and disability rights advocate, is featured in a new book on adventuring and aging.

Why it matters: Rose, who was paralyzed in a horseback-riding accident 50 years ago, founded her organization Birdability with the goal of bringing birders with disabilities together and making trails more accessible.

Driving the news: Author Caroline Paul interviewed Rose for her book "Tough Broad: From Boogie Boarding to Wing Walking, How Outdoor Adventure Improves Our Lives as We Age." The pair will talk Tuesday at Austin Central Library.

  • Paul's book, which was published this month, explores the science and psychology of the outdoors and highlights women who embrace adventure, including Rose, 83-year-old scuba diver Louise Wholey and 52-year-old BASE jumper Shawn Brokemond.

What they're saying: Birding "is sort of like geocaching," Rose told Axios. "You really don't know what you're going to see. You're walking — or wheeling — into a situation where you know that there's something out there."

  • "It's so much fun," she adds. "I don't know why everyone doesn't do it."

Zoom in: She has worked for years to make trails more accessible, including East Austin's Blair Woods Nature Preserve, which was recently revitalized to be stroller- and wheelchair-friendly.

  • "After years and years of just barreling around with a bunch of walking people, I thought 'Where are all the disabled people?'" Rose said.
  • The nonprofit, founded six years ago, now has 42 "Birdability captains" across 26 states who work to improve accessibility in their communities, host birding outings and populate Birdability's crowdsourced map.
  • The map — a collaboration between Birdability and the National Audubon Society — has over 1,700 sites listed to help people find out if there are any barriers at a specific park, trail or birding location. Those who contribute to the site answer questions about parking, trail surface type and width, bathrooms, railings and more.

Between the lines: Rose said she's identified about 30 places in Travis County where she can bird, although "I may not be able to bird the whole thing, and it may just be the parking lot."

  • "People are definitely paying attention," she said. "They are more open than they've ever been to access needs."

Of note: Rose founded Birdability not just for people with disabilities — it's for "every single one of us as we age."

  • "Don't we want to be able to be on the trails as we age? Let's broaden our understanding of what access means," she said.
  • Birdability offers free resources for access considerations at birding locations and steps to create accessible birding outings in your community.

What's next: Catch Paul and Rose's conversation at 6:30pm Tuesday at the Central Library.

  • Free and open to the public, with books available for purchase from BookPeople.
  • Reserve your spot online.
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