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Camping for All

Jennifer Martin, (202) 720-8188

September 29, 2006

Camping out in the fresh air of the great outdoors can be a remarkable and invigorating experience. Until recently, this opportunity has been complicated for persons with disabilities. Existing tents are not user-friendly for people who use mobility devices or those with upper extremity impairments.

With funding spanning from 2001 to 2004 from the Cooperative State Research Education and Extension Service’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program, BlueSky Designs developed and commercialized the Freedom tent, a more universally accessible tent designed for people with disabilities. On September 29, 2006, BlueSky Designs received a da Vinci Award in recognition of its work to overcome barriers and increase accessibility for all people. The da Vinci Awards® are given by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to honor outstanding design and engineering innovations relative to product design, design process and applied research in accessibility and universal design.

The Freedom tent is a first in the outdoor industry. The easy-to-open zipperless door, spacious vestibule and zipper loops are design elements which benefit anyone, with or without a disability. Additionally, the tent may be set up from a seated position. Finally, the versatile vestibule area provides shelter for people and pets and serves as a storage area for chairs and gear. Eureka!, a mainstream tent manufacturer, licensed the Freedom tent and the fan door, bringing the Freedom tent to market in 2005.

Improvements in camping accessibility potentially increase the number of outdoor enthusiasts, promoting environmental stewardship. The tents increase opportunities for active outdoor recreation and its benefits, such as improved health, to people with disabilities and their families. Finally, it makes it easier for camping programs to accommodate a broader population.

The Freedom tent and other universally-designed tent designs were developed by BlueSky Designs between 2001 and 2004. Staff and campers from organizations, which offer inclusive camping and outdoor adventure programs, provided input and feedback during the development and field testing of various designs.

BlueSky Designs applies ergonomics and universal design to develop products that address the needs of people with and without disabilities -- at work, at play and at home. The resulting products make activities easier for and more accessible to everyone.

The primary objectives of the SBIR program are to stimulate technological innovations in the private sector and to strengthen the role of small businesses in meeting federal research and development needs. The program also fosters and encourages participation by women-owned and socially- or economically-disadvantaged small business firms.

CSREES advances knowledge for agriculture, the environment, human health and well-being, and communities by supporting research, education, and extension programs in the Land-Grant University System and other partner organizations. For more information, visit http://www.csrees.usda.gov.