EVAN BARNARD’s favorite memory of growing up in Georgia is volunteering with the Chattahoochee Nature Center and National Park Service. He loved the hands-on experience of connecting visitors with nature and wildlife. He soon started volunteering with The Nature Conservancy too, where he helped repair a braille nature trail that had been vandalized. He couldn’t understand why anyone would wreck these resources for people with disabilities, and vowed to make nature trails more accessible to all.
Nature for All is Evan’s award-winning organization that connects people of all abilities to inclusive nature programs. He started by researching other braille trail locations and sensory gardens around the world and made an expansive virtual directory.
Then he expanded his search to schools, summer camps, sports and educational programs for the blind. Nature for All’s website currently features over 200 braille trails and sensory gardens in 35 countries, including ninety-two trails in thirty-one U.S. states. Nature for All has been featured in the UN’s SDSN Youth Solutions Report and Evan has even given a TEDx talk about his work with the visually impaired community.
Evan is a proud 2017 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards recipient. We are so grateful he took the time to talk to us about his beautiful program.
Who would you say has had the greatest positive influence on your life?
The greatest positive influence in my life has been the people in the visually impaired community. They inspire me with their courage and abilities and always have a positive outlook on life.
What is your favorite thing to follow on social media?
I like to follow environmental issues on social media.
If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
If I could go anywhere in the world, I would go to New Zealand, because nature is completely intertwined with their society and culture.
How did you come to repair the braille nature trail that inspired Nature for All?
I have always loved nature and wanted to work with The Nature Conservancy, and there was an opportunity to volunteer for them repairing a braille nature trail that had been vandalized and its braille signs stolen. The trail was then vandalized a second time and some of the guide ropes were stolen. I was very frustrated that someone would try to destroy a trail for people who don’t have many opportunities to go outdoors, and this inspired me to get involved.
And how did you discover all the other nature trails for the visually impaired?
I was researching locations on the internet for a possible new braille trail in South Georgia, and I found information on several other braille trails and also sensory gardens in other parts of the United States and even in South Africa. I started researching to find more of these trails. I now list over 200 trails and gardens located in 35 countries on my website.
Have you gotten to visit any of them in person?
I have only visited two trails but I learned so much about the others through my research.
Can you tell me about some of the first reactions you got to this project?
The first reactions I received for this project were from members of the Georgia Council of the Blind, who were incredibly supportive and thrilled with the opportunity to experience the outdoors on the trail.
Do you get any feedback from the people that utilize your website?
I have received emails from people around the world about using the website. Some wanted to tell me about braille trails near them or give me other information to share, and many people shared it with their own networks. A person from Brisbane, Australia wrote to tell me about special features in their downtown such as textured sidewalks and braille signage that were designed to allow people who are visually impaired to move independently through the center of the city. I also received an email from someone in Rwanda who wishes there would be a braille trail in Rwanda someday as there are none currently that exist in their country.
What was it like to speak at the TEDx about Nature for All?
I was 14 when I spoke at TEDx about Nature for All, and I was very nervous as it was my first experience at public speaking in front of a large crowd. The audience was terrific, and it was exciting to be a part of TEDx and to have the opportunity to spread my message to a larger audience.
What’s the hardest part about running Nature for All?
The hardest part about running Nature for All is managing and regularly updating the website. It’s time-consuming and challenging to balance with my time as a college student.
The most rewarding part?
The most rewarding part of leading Nature for All is realizing that the world is starting to take notice of this issue and communities are creating more opportunities for people to experience the outdoors while visually impaired or with other disabilities. Nature for All was featured in the UN’s Youth Report, and I recently served as a US youth delegate at the UN Youth Assembly, which was focused on inclusion. Nature for All received a lot of attention at the assembly and was mentioned several times. Its goals support several of the UN’s sustainable development goals.
What’s next for the Nature for All campaign?
I am currently expanding my website to include more information for people who are visually impaired and also those with disabilities, and I am advocating with national and international organizations to promote sustainable and inclusive communities worldwide.
How about you? After college, any plans?
I am currently in my second year at the University of Georgia majoring in ecology, and hope to work in environmental policy and one day run an environmental organization.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about receiving this award from the Diller Foundation?
I am incredibly honored to receive this generous award from the Helen Diller Family Foundation.
This post is sponsored by the Helen Diller Family Foundation. To learn more about the foundation’s $36,000 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, visit www.dillerteenawards.org.