Looking For Someone Like Me: Representation in the Outdoor Community
Almost every time I open my mailbox, I have a magazine waiting on me. Whether it’s from my favorite outdoor store or one of the conservation organizations I support, I always enjoy flipping through the pages. Over the past few years, I have noticed a slight change in the images in these magazines. I am seeing more women and more people of color, which is always exciting. I am also noticing a slight shift on the television shows and online content surrounding hunting and fishing. I love that the outdoor community is recognizing the diversity of its population, and that in order for people to feel more connected to their environment, they need to see themselves represented there.
But do you know who I don’t see represented very often? People living with a disability. Now don’t get me wrong- I enjoy the fishing stories that focus on an organization offering opportunities for outdoorsmen with disabilities, and I always watch the TV episodes involving the hunters in wheelchairs, but I want to see more.
I want to flip through a Cabela’s catalog and see a man with an amputation showing the fit of a pair of camo pants. I want to turn on the Outdoor Channel and see a woman in a wheelchair hosting her own hunting show. I want to attend the SHOT Show and wait in line to talk to a young man who is blind and is representing a large company and signing autographs and taking pictures with his fans. I want to live in an outdoor world where this isn’t the “once in a while,” but the “everyday occurrence.” And it isn’t because their disability inspires people, it’s because they have something amazing to contribute, despite that disability.
People often make the assumption that having a disability means that you have no money and are not able to make a financial difference in a company’s bottom line, but think about this: “According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 54 million people living with disabilities represent approximately $1 trillion in aggregate income that translates into more than $220 billion in discretionary consumer spending power.”[i] One of the largest minority groups in the U.S. has a large chunk of money to spend, and guess where we want to put that money? “The American Association of People with Disabilities and Public Opinion Research Inc. report that more than 70 percent of members choose to buy from retailers that support people with disabilities.”[ii]
I want people with disabilities to be seen as a financially contributing group of customers. I want us to be considered when it comes to product development. I want us to be included in marketing campaigns on TV, in print, and online. I want to see us representing companies at expos and outdoor shows. I want to see us everywhere.
I may be dreaming too big, but I honestly don’t know any other way to dream. So I am going to do my best to fix this problem. My biggest passion is to see more people outdoors, regardless of their abilities. But I know that some folks need encouragement, and they need to see someone else doing it before it makes sense for them.
I’ve never been more excited to volunteer for a job.