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  • Writer's pictureJuan Pablo Culasso

First Birdwatching Route for the Visually Impaired in South America

Natural Wealth

Together with Carlos Mario Wagner, director of the Colombia Birdfair and the Rio Cali Association, we applied for the Nature Tourism Transformation Award: Colombia Natural Wealth. In October 2020, MinComercio, Colombia Productiva and the Natural Wealth program of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), with the support of UNWTO, EAN University and Ruta N, announced the four winning initiatives, among which our project won: 'Establishment of the First Birdwatching Route for the Visually Impaired in South America'.

We were looking for projects that highlighted biodiversity and focused on sustainable tourism to help address the economic impact of the covid-19 pandemic.

Our proposal sought to find a new way of approach, recognition and connection with nature for the visually impaired population. In addition, to contribute to the enjoyment and identification of the most representative bird species of the Andean region of Colombia, in the San Antonio Cloud Forest - Km. 18, in Cali. The initiative transforms birdwatching tourism in Colombia into an inclusive activity and fosters new market niches. It also took into account the creation of a special sound guide for the visually impaired and the training of tour guides in the region.

The project was so successful that it was replicated in three other regions: the Matavén Forest Reserve in the department of Vichada, Colombia; Hato Buenaventura in the eastern plains in the department of Casanare, Colombia; and in the Civil Society Nature Reserve Para Ver la Esperanza, in the Tropical Dry Forest in the department of Cesar, Colombia. The results of this project can be seen on the Colombia BirdFair website.

​My role in the project: combining my expertise as nature sound recordist and inclusion and accessibility consultant.

During the project I worked in two areas of expertise that I am passionate about: the recording, editing and post-production of soundscapes and bird guides, and the development of accessibility and inclusion in the places visited. From my role as an expert in nature sound and in inclusion and accessibility, I was in charge of ensuring that all people could enjoy the birding experience, regardless of their skills and abilities.

Soundscapes and Bird Audioguides

As for the sound part, I made sure to record and edit the soundscapes of the visited places in a careful and detailed way, so that visually impaired people could have an auditive experience as complete and realistic as possible. In addition, I developed a sound guide of the most representative bird species of the San Antonio Cloud Forest - Km. 18, in Cali, so that visually impaired people could identify and enjoy them through sound.

Accessibility and Inclusion Consulting

In terms of accessibility and inclusion, I worked on the development of a 100% accessible trail for people with visual disabilities, taking into account the implementation of technologies and strategies to ensure their autonomy and safety on the trail. I also conducted theoretical and practical workshops on inclusion and accessibility, with the aim of raising awareness and training tourist guides in the region on issues of accessibility and inclusion.

In addition, as part of my consulting work, I provided guidance and technical assistance in the implementation of an accessible web design for the Colombia Birdfair website and in the creation of accessible documents related to the project. All this, with the aim of ensuring that information and resources were available to all interested people, regardless of their skills and abilities.

In short, my role in the project was instrumental in ensuring that the birding experience was inclusive and accessible to all people. From my experience in nature sound and in inclusion and accessibility, I was able to contribute my knowledge and skills to achieve this goal. It was an enriching and challenging experience, but the end result was worth it: an inclusive, sustainable and memorable tourism experience for all people.

A great team!

I would like to highlight the importance of the team of professionals who worked on this project. Each one of them contributed their knowledge and experience to make it a success. Carlos Mario Wagner, as the former project director and representative of AsoRioCali, was an inspiring and motivating leader who was always committed to the objectives of the project and the well-being of the local communities.

Luz Adriana Márquez, who had the seed idea for the project, was a key tourism advisor who contributed her experience in the sector and her knowledge of the region. Jenny Jordán, as a bridge with the local community and director of the project replications, was in charge of the implementation of the project in the different regions, achieving excellent coordination and teamwork.

Luis Carlos Mora, as ornithologist and field assistant, was a fundamental support for the identification and recording of the bird species present in the different places visited. Carlos Navia, as administrative and field assistant, was key to ensure the success of the logistics. Sara Lucía Colmenares, as technical-scientific advisor for the project and technical support in sound editing, and later as tourism advisor for the replications, contributed with her experience and knowledge in nature tourism and biodiversity. And Mauricio Gonzalez, as multimedia specialist, was responsible for the creation of high quality audiovisual materials for the promotion of the project.

Working with this team was an enriching and exciting experience. Each of them demonstrated exceptional commitment and passion for the project and for inclusion and accessibility in tourism. I am completely grateful for the opportunity to have worked with them and for all that we accomplished together. Without a doubt, the success of the project was due to the teamwork and dedication of each of the professionals involved.

It doesn't stop here...

In summary, this inclusive birdwatching tourism project has been a wonderful and enriching experience for me. Seeing how more and more visually impaired people can enjoy and appreciate nature through sounds and special guides has been exciting and motivating. This experience inspires and motivates me to remain committed to inclusion and accessibility in tourism. The idea of "nothing for us without us" was a key principle in the approach to this project, making sure to work with local communities and visually impaired people to ensure that their needs and wishes were considered at all times.

Furthermore, the success of the project and its replication in other regions of the country are a demonstration that sustainable tourism and inclusion can go hand in hand and generate economic opportunities for local communities and tourism businesses. But this is just the beginning. My desire is to expand this idea to more places in Colombia and the world, working with different communities and regions to ensure that all people have access to the wonders of nature and biodiversity.

I think inclusion and accessibility is not just a matter of business, but a matter of social responsibility, social justice and human rights. I want to continue working so that all people, regardless of their skills and abilities, have equal opportunities to enjoy and experience the beauty of nature.

If you would like to learn more, or hire a consultant specializing in inclusion and accessibility, or a nature sound person, please do not hesitate to get in touch. Together we can make this dream of a more accessible and inclusive world a reality.

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