Hannah Dudney

Making outdoor leisure accessible for all

May 12, 2022
Author: Eric Zimmer

VIU graduate student Hannah Dudney shares her story

Exploring the issue of crowding in public parks and how it specifically affects people with mobility-related disabilities is at the centre of VIU Master of Arts in Sustainable Leisure Management (MASLM) student Hannah Dudney’s research.

She recently received a scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to continue her work.

“I’m really lucky and honoured to receive the SSRHC scholarship,” she says. “This will help fund the research I am working on during my master’s degree here at VIU.”

For her thesis, Hannah is exploring experiences of park crowding for people with mobility-related disabilities. Taking what she calls a phenomenological approach, she is identifying and cataloguing lived experiences. Her research process will include conducting interviews with participants in parks around Vancouver Island (chosen by the participants themselves) and additional questions will focus on practical management solutions to park crowding.

She views crowding as an additional barrier to park enjoyment and accessibility, “especially with the boom of park visitation during and after the COVID-19 pandemic and the growing desire to escape the hustle and bustle of the world’s concrete jungles.”

Hannah hopes that findings from her study will help her “devise some suggestions for managing crowding at popular parks that receive seasonal crowding and fill a gap in park crowding literature.”

Thus far, much of the literature she's found that combines topics of disability and nature/outdoor recreation suggests that this field is still under-researched.

“This is problematic because people with disabilities have been historically unwelcome in public outdoor spaces, both socially and physically,” she says.

Her work stems out of her combined love for health and wellness, nature, travel and the desire to help all people “live a long and happy life.”

Hannah found the MASLM program at VIU after completing her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology at the University of Western Ontario in 2019, with a focus on population, aging and health. While deciding what her next steps would be, she volunteered for the Alzheimer’s Society, Best Buddies, Thames Valley District School Board and the London, Ontario, Big Brothers Big Sisters. She also worked for the YMCA and a recreation centre called Life After Fifty.

“Through my own love for nature and travelling, I decided to pursue a diploma in tourism and travel at St. Clair College in Windsor, Ontario,” she recalls.

And while Hannah briefly considered teacher’s college, she decided that what she was really looking for was an opportunity to further her education in a way that aligned with her desire to create opportunities for people to live sustainable, happy, healthy lives.

“The MASLM program at VIU was exactly what I was looking for and is the perfect fit for me,” she says.

This month, Hannah had the opportunity to present her ideas and compete against 16 other graduate students in a national competition known as the Three-Minute Thesis, hosted by the University of Winnipeg.

“I thought it would be excellent practice to improve my knowledge mobilization skills,” she says.

And while she didn’t win, Hannah is grateful for the opportunity.

“It was such a fantastic experience with such awesome camaraderie between contestants,” she says. “Meeting friendly scholars who have done or plan to do such important research was an experience of a lifetime. I learned so much about research in fields far outside of my own which was so valuable. The whole experience – although nerve wracking for us all – was positive, uplifting and such a great growing experience for someone like myself who struggles to perform under pressure.”

She’s also grateful to VIU’s Dr. Farhad Moghimehfar and Dr. Garret Stone for being her “sounding boards” when it came to her various ideas for a thesis.

“I had many ideas, but I followed this path because it was the most important to me and I believed it filled a really important gap in the park management realm and park crowding literature.”

Looking ahead academically and career-wise, Hannah says for now, she’s leaving her options open, although she hopes to either continue on to complete her PhD in recreation and leisure or find employment in provincial or municipal protected area management or in recreation program management.

Overall, she says, “my goal is to continue to make outdoor leisure accessible – physically, socially and financially – for all.”

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