“The mountains are calling and I must go.”
So said John Muir, one of America’s most famed environmentalists and early advocates for our current national park system. But if you are living with hearing loss, you might miss the mountain’s call. Chances are you’ll still feel the mountain’s magnetic pull, however, so if you’re planning on taking the path less traveled this summer and delving into the trails of Yellowstone or the rocks of Arches National Park, make sure you plan accordingly.
Where to go
Since the majority of the national park system is untamed wilderness, there aren’t many opportunities for the National Park Service to accommodate those with hearing loss. When they can, the Park Service offers accommodations like captioned films, trails that allow service animals, guidebooks and trail maps, ASL interpreters for guided tours and other features that vary from park to park.
The national park system also includes the majority of the nation’s memorials and monuments, including all the popular spots in Washington, D.C. The D.C. monuments, museums and the zoo are maintained by the Smithsonian Institute, who provides free wheelchair loans, ASL interpreters and assistive listening devices at their facilities.
What to pack
Whether or not you plan on hiking and camping, you should prepare yourself for the most extreme conditions. Weather changes quickly, especially if you’re up in the mountains, and you can get caught easily in a sudden downpour or cold snap. Be sure to include the following in your luggage:
- Hearing aid storage case/drying container
- Extra set of hearing aid batteries
- Hearing aid wind sleeve
- Hearing aid splash protector
- Hearing aid sport loop
- Any assistive listening devices you use, in the event the park can’t provide one to you
- Vibrating alarm clock for your tent or hotel room
- Wild animal protection, such as a bear bell or bear spray
What to do
The parks offer a variety of recreational activities, from general sightseeing to dogsledding (Denali National Park) and cave tours (Wind Cave National Park). Contact the park you will be visiting several weeks in advance to request an ASL interpreter for the activities you will be signing up for, and also to ask them their advice for patrons with hearing loss. The rangers know the park’s offerings best and will be able to direct you to the most hearing-loss friendly activities.
What to watch out for
Bears. Watch out for bears. Check your hearing aid before heading out on the trail, or even before you unzip the flaps of your tent. From 2010 to 2013, there were 92 incidences of black bear attacks alone across Canada and the United States. Keep a bear bell attached to your backpack when you go hiking, so that even if you can’t hear the bear, the bear can hear you. Most bears will steer clear of humans if they are able. In the event you encounter a bear, bear spray (basically strong pepper spray) is good to have on hand.
There are plenty of other dangerous wild animals in the parks, so know the potential hazards and how to protect yourself before you go. Each year, 7,000 - 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes. Wear thick hiking boots that cover your ankles if you’re camping in snake territory. Rattlesnakes may give you a warning before they strike, but the rest won’t. Depending on the severity of your hearing loss, you might not notice the snake’s rattle until it’s too late.
As long as you evaluate the dangers and plan out the fun, your trip to the national parks will be an experience you’ll always remember.