Have An Accessible Earth Day: Creating Community Gardens For All

Community gardens serve many purposes:  they instill knowledge on agricultural practices, provide access to produce, foster community socialization, invite precious pollinators into the area, while simultaneously beautifying and enriching the land. Tending to a garden harbors unique therapeutic properties known to reduce stress, enhance creativity, and exerts physical activity. With mental, physical, and social benefits aplenty, there truly is something for everyone.

The goal is designing our gardening spaces to ensure full and equal access. 

Mobility Trust celebrates Earth Day by sharing the principles of Universal Design. Using these guidelines we discuss how you can employ those principles into community gardens to promote inclusivity and accessibility.

The 7 principles of Universal Design

Created by the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University

  1. Equitable use: The design is useful to people with diverse abilities
  2. Flexibility in use: The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities
  3. Simple and intuitive use: Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level
  4. Perceptible information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities
  5. Tolerance for error: The design minimizes hazards and adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions
  6. Low physical effort: the design can be used efficiently, comfortably, and with a minimum of fatigue
  7. Size and space for approach and use: Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of the user’s body size, posture, or mobility


Universal Design Community Garden Guide

Accessible Walkways

Inaccessible paths are the first (literal) barrier to entry when building your garden. Walkways, gates, doors and handles to entryways should be operable with one hand, not require tight grasping or twisting of the wrist or be too heavy to easily push open. An easy test is to try opening the garden door with one arm using a closed first. Handles should be between 34 and 48 inches above ground and the door provides at least 60 inches of room to allow for backing up and opening the door. With the door open there should be a clearing of at least 32 inches width to allow for wheelchair access. All paths throughout the garden should be 36 inches wide, consider doubling this distance for two way entrance and exit or turnaround points. Lastly, add edges to all paths to accommodate those with vision loss (consider planting scented and textured plants for these gardeners to enjoy!)

Paved pathways are a great way to ensure accessibility, however some materials are better suited for the environment than others. Consider using permeable pavers as these materials are porous, which allow water to infiltrate the pavement and drain into the ground or sub-base rock underneath. These paving systems are just as strong and durable as traditional paving materials such as concrete, asphalt, or compacted gravel. Several types of porous paving grids exist, including plastic grid pavers with flexible joints; rigid or rolled plastic pavers; interlocking concrete grids; and permeable concrete and asphalt pavement. Permeable pavements aid storm water management, reduce runoff, decrease flooding risks, and are oftentimes cheaper and less permanent than their solid material counterparts. 

Accessible Planters

The most functional approach are raised beds that offer wheelchair users, or those wishing to sit, the ability to pull their chair underneath the planters while still accessing the full garden bed. These beds should be raised to 34 inches with 27 inches of clear space underneath.

Hanging pots when placed at reachable heights are an easy way to make your garden accessible. You can even add pully’s so the height the plants hang can be adjusted for each gardener’s height.

Choosing a vertical garden is a space saving option that adds visual appeal.  If you have a wall or structure to lean on, shoe hangers, wooden pallets or trellises are  inexpensive and simple solutions that allow for potting placements at a range of heights. 

Accessible Tools

While keeping in mind the same concepts of garden gate handles, consider ergonomically-designed tools that are made to reduce back, wrist and hand stress. Spend more time gardening and less time recovering with lightweight, adjustable tools or make modifications to generic tools by adding handles, extensions, grips and more. 

Low-maintenance Plants

The plants you choose to grow actually play a part in how easy your gardens are to manage. Focus on building a garden with plenty of low-maintenance plants for all gardener experience levels. Cut down on the amount of time spent pruning by featuring slow-growing plants that rarely need to be trimmed. Here are some slow-growers worth considering.

Hardy, drought-tolerant plants are also high on the list because they are tough enough to survive even if you can only get out there to water them every once in a while. Plus, drought-tolerant plants typically need less water in general, so they inherently help conserve water. Plants that are native to your area also require less water, with the added bonus of supporting the local insects and critters that keep our ecosystems happy. Check out this page for a list of drought-tolerant plants.  See what plants are native to your home. 

How the ADA can support change in your area.

The "2010 Access Standards" are a set of minimum requirements that newly designed and constructed facilities must meet to ensure basic accessibility. Accessibility in this sense refers to removing barriers preventing individuals with disabilities from full and equal participation.

"By asking people with disabilities to provide input," Dana Gover, ADA consultant at the Northwest ADA Center-Idaho and a board member of the Living Independence Network Corporation (LINC) explains, "a designer can exceed those minimum requirements and meet a variety of people's needs to create accessible spaces" 

Mobility Trust stands alongside the mission of the ADA to create an accessible world. Reach out to our team to learn more about our assistive services, amayer@mobilitytrust.com 

Related Posts

Keep in Touch

Subscribe to our email list for the latest in industry events, press releases and company updates.