Dr. Robert “Bob” Stern
University of Texas at Dallas
[Editor’s Note: Bob was invited to reflect and share a little regarding his perspective as a professional scientific researcher and higher education faculty affiliated with a R1 institution in the U.S.A., particularly in the context of more recent life events including his participation in an accessible field experience.]
It was a great pleasure for me to join the IAGD Full Access to the Geology of the Sea-to-Sky Highway field trip held on Oct. 18th before the GSA 2014 Annual meeting in Vancouver, BC. I am physically handicapped with a form of progressive Muscular Dystrophy. I am a Professor of Geosciences at the University of Texas at Dallas, where I have served for 33 years. Fieldwork and field trips were a big part of what attracted me to geology, but over the years it has been harder and harder for me to participate. Everyone’s disability is different but part
of my adjustment to my reality has been to give up field experiences, partly because I don’t want to be a problem for field trip leaders who have enough to deal with – logistics, weather, permissions, etc., etc. – without having to worry about someone who can’t jump off the bus and walk a half-mile or so to a choice outcrop. It’s just easier all around to not sign up, which is what I have done for the past decade or so. Fieldwork and field trips are just something that I felt I had to give up. I didn’t like doing so, but it felt like there was no choice. The IAGD accessible field trip made me think that maybe there is another way, that maybe field trips can be part of the GSA Annual Meeting experience for folks with a disability.
From the first I heard of it, the IAGD accessible field trip swept these concerns away and I enthusiastically signed up. The day before the field trip, all the participants got together to meet and share their interests and concerns. I learned about the range of expertise in the group. The field trip was everything I hoped it would be: the leaders Brett Gilley and Christopher Atchison planned an itinerary that captured the fascinating geology and scenery of metropolitan Vancouver and Howe Sound fjord between Metro Vancouver and Whistler; the group was diverse and friendly; transportation recognized the reality that some of us needed special arrangements; lunch was tasty and enjoyed in scenic surroundings; there were just enough interesting field trip stops for a full day of geologizing; and rest rooms were accessible. I learned a lot and the field trip will be an experience that I cherish for the rest of my life.
What can we do to build on the success of the 2014 IAGD accessible field trip? The lesson I took away was that accessible field trips need to happen again, and soon. The reality is that many people of all ages face disabilities that may stop us from signing up for a regular GSA field trip. I can speak for aging “Baby Boomers” with physical limitations; there will be more of us in the future, many of whom are likely to stop signing up for field trips. Why not try and arrange a one-day “Accessible Field Trip” for all future GSA Annual Meetings? Many of us have good geological insights