A Chattanooga intern describes her experience fostering inclusivity in the outdoors for youths with disabilities

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Eleanor Lane, who grew up hard of hearing, is helping those like her get into nature.

Growing up as a teenager who identified as hard of hearing, Eleanor Lane didn't have the opportunity to fully explore the outdoors.

"My mother was very hesitant to let her daughter who couldn't hear that well go stomping through the woods unsupervised," says Lane.

Beyond her family's hesitancy, there were no organizations that encouraged Lane or individuals like her to be active in nature or educated them about outdoor inclusivity.

Now, at age 22, Lane has the chance to increase outdoor accessibility for deaf and hard of hearing individuals through her work as a Youth Empowerment Steward for Conservation Legacy.

"Crews like this did not exist when I was growing up," says Lane.

Conservation Legacy is a national organization dedicated to conserving the environment and supporting community service projects. It works with eight program partners across the nation, including Southeast Conservation Corps, based in Chattanooga, where Lane currently works as a YES intern.

The YES program is a new addition to Conservation Legacy's mission. Funded by the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation grant program, it seeks to employ individuals with disabilities, with a focus on increasing accessibility and inclusivity on public lands.

Lane's job responsibilities include trail cleanup and general maintenance as well as planning and organizing programs for deaf and hard of hearing individuals. For example, in September, to celebrate the International Week of the Deaf, she and Youth Field Supervisor Taran Branscum hosted a hike at Lula Lake Land Trust to engage with those in the community. In early fall, they hosted three weekend camping programs for deaf and hard of hearing individuals aged 16-18.

"From these programs, we hope that [participants] walk away with a sense of confidence in their abilities, with resume skills that they can list and with volunteer hours," Lane says.

In her own words, Lane shares more about the YES program and how it has inspired her.

— I love the outdoors. I find such a sense of peace being outside and that should be open to everybody. Everybody should have that opportunity.

— I can confidently say this is not like any other internship I've had before.

— My work is being valued. I feel like my voice is being listened to, and I have strong leadership to guide me through this process.

— If I had a child who was also hard of hearing, I would want that child to be able to fully experience the outdoors.

— Take an active stance against discrimination is what I tell people the most.

— I was looking at the Southeast Conservation Corps website, and I saw this posting, and I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to leave college, take what I've learned ... and be able to apply it to something that I didn't have when I was growing up.

— I feel super lucky that whatever search engine was guiding me that day led me to the Southeast Conservation Corps website.

  photo  Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Eleanor Lane with Southeast Conservation Corp scouts trails for upcoming programs at Greenway Farms.