January 2021

Birdability™

At first glance, the phrase "blind birdwatcher" might seem to be contradictory, equivalent to referring to a "deaf bird-hearer". But substitute the term "birder" in each phrase, and the concepts become eminently reasonable. And they certainly are for the numerous blind and deaf people who know, enjoy, and deeply appreciate the birds around them, and who can be included on any birding event. Have trouble envisioning a birder with a mobility challenge on a "bird walk"? If the day's location offers facilities such as accessible parking, paths, and ramps, maybe the problem is with the concept of bird "walk", not with the possibly expert birder who would like to be included on the outing.

It is this principle of inclusion which drives the Birdabilty™[1] movement, seeking not only a change in the attitudes, understandings, and behavior of many birders, but an expansion of access to birding sites and activities for all who are interested. One step in increasing accessibility is the reporting and mapping of sites which are already available, which is the goal of Audubon's Birdability Map[2] project. Participants fill out a "Birdability Site Review"[2] to report sites they're familiar with, describing suitable accessibility features. This author was surprised to find an excellent nearby location which had not yet been submitted, and filled out the form. Voila! Another potential birding spot appeared on the map for someone seeking access.

The "Birdability" notion doesn't extend only to birders who might benefit from specific welcoming features of a physical site, but also to the overarching values of what Audubon calls Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion[3], or EDI. Viewed from that perspective, the entire universe of bird-related activity becomes another area in which barriers can be recognized, and then removed, as exemplified in the Birdability.org Guidance Documents. Their Access Considerations[4] are but one set of thoughtful examples of this new approach which they offer.

An enlightening and worthwhile Birdability Week 2020 panel discussion[5], reveals the wealth of possibilities for expanding the circle of birders to all who might be interested. There is also an excellent Accessible Birding[6] virtual discussion which was hosted by the Toronto Public Library and features several of the participants in the panel mentioned above. The focus is slightly different, but there's plenty of important information presented.

Not surprisingly*, the long-running, yet up-to-date Talkin' Birds radio show (featured on this site as a Favorite in the October 2018 podcasts review) strongly supports EDI[7] as applied to birding. And for those who ask, "How can I (or my organization) begin to make a difference?", the show's website offers a comprehensive How To[8] page with insightful ideas and inspirational links. It's well worth study by the newcomer and the experienced alike. But to experience a real-life example of theory meeting the road, tune in to one of Georgia Audubon's "Virtual Field Trips"[9], visiting a different birding trail each month in partnership with Birdability™.

The Favorite for this month's review simply has to be the Birdability.org fundraiser Braille Hoodie[10]. With the hashtag BirdOn printed in Braille characters across the chest in a lighthearted play on the very idea of accessibility (no "reading" allowed!), it offers an opportunity for valuable conversation starters by introducing the topic in an engaging and gentle way. "Bird On" is the slogan of Midwest-based Rogue Birders[11], which partnered in the hoodie project.

* Full Disclosure: The Talkin' Birds Outreach Coordinator, Freya McGregor[12], is one of the moving forces of Birdability™, and is also a regular correspondent with the author of this review, who is, not coincidentally, an "Ambassador" for Talkin' Birds. Birdability.org, deservedly, is endorsed by this website. There is no sponsorship arrangement, nor with the radio show, just respect and admiration for a job well done.

The Bird Wide Web™ will be publishing a new article on the beginning of each month.