One excellent idea is a trip to the sanctuaries owned by the Mass Audubon Society.
They have an exciting program called The Accessible Trails Project.
Our goal is to connect as many people as possible to the nature of Massachusetts. Our trails are extremely welcoming for all – whether you are an individual without a disability who is a beginner on our trails, or you have any sort of disability that may have kept you from the trail in the past, we aim to design these trails to be welcoming to the entire community.
All 20 Mass Audubon sites with Nature Centers have Americans with Disabilities Act compliant parking, entrances, admission areas, educational activity spaces, exhibits, galleries, and restrooms. They each also offer at least one Accessible trail, which is mostly flat, and not too difficult for people with walking impairments.
As of this writing, more than half have trails designed to accommodate people with disabilities at all levels, especially those who can see only partially or not at all. These are All-Person's Trails, or Universally Accessible Sensory Trails.
These trails are designed and constructed first to physically meet or exceed Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance, and then to incorporate universally designed interpretive features including educational stops, wildlife viewing boardwalks and platforms, picnic and play areas, and navigation resources including audio directions, guide ropes, curbing, and handrails.
Mass Audubon's Accessibility page gives details and pictures. This page lists the sanctuaries with Nature Centers, and the notation of those with these newer full-featured trails.
At all of these equipped sanctuaries, the Nature Center provides everything you need. At the admission window, you can pick up trail information including a guide in printed or Braille format, and a printed or tactile (raised topographical) trail map. They have adaptive items available for loan, including hands-free binoculars (on a tripod), audio players, a walking cane with a small seat, and a push wheelchair.
There are some basic criteria for All Person's Trails, so you can choose any location on the map that's marked as providing them. They're all over the state.
All Person's Trails are typically 0.5-0.75 miles in length and include:
- Smooth, gentle grades for improved access by foot, stroller, or wheelchair
- Sensory-rich audio tours (available by cell phone and/or audio players)
- Braille texts and tactile maps
- Tour booklets and maps designed for high readability for visually impaired and sighted visitors
- Improved signage (also Braille) along trails
- Wider boardwalks with bumpers as needed
- Post-and-rope guiding systems. The guiding systems includes beads along the ropes. Round beads indicate the location of a narrated stop where you will find a sign within reach with the stop name and number in print and Braille. A square bead indicates that there is seating nearby.
- Interpretive content focusing on the natural and cultural history of each site
- Accessible outdoor wildlife observation structures, specialized gardens, seating, play areas, and picnic areas
Here are a few examples of these trails, including the rope guide which blind people can use on their own:
One great sanctuary is Drumlin Farm in a lovely town close to an hour west of Boston. While not visually-impaired, I do use a cane, walker or wheelchair, and have been very comfortable there. They have fun things for people of all ages. There are animals, farming, learning gardens, and a nature center. Daily hayrides from April through Thanksgiving include a fun, educational property tour. They have two loops on their All Person's Sensory Trail systems.
This page has a full description of their accessibility options. There's also an audio tour feature, which has downloads of 8 stops on the Ice Pond Trail, which takes you closer to the water and woods; and 12 stops on the Farmyard Loop, which takes you closer to the animals. You can listen to it or download it.
Ice Pond Trail:
Ice Pond Trail is a woodland walk along the edge of a small pond, running from the parking lot to the admissions window at our Nature Center. This trail provides a quiet spot away from the busier sections of the farm. While the trail does meet ADA guidelines for grade and surfacing, you may find portions to be steep or strenuous. As with all outdoor trails, please watch your step, since surfaces may be wet or slippery at times depending on recent weather conditions.
Distance: 350-foot accessible pathway
- A five-foot wide crushed stone surface.
- A guide rope is provided along the entire Ice Pond trail, attached to the top of a fence.
- Round beads along the rope indicate the location of a narrated stop where you will find a sign within reach with the stop name and number in print and Braille.
- A square bead indicates that there is seating nearby.
This trail takes you from the main entrance at the Drumlin Farm Nature Center, past the wildlife exhibits and the many barns and animals of the farmyard, and back to the Nature Center. Visiting all eleven stops on the Farmyard Loop trail takes about 30 minutes, although you can easily spend one and a half to two hours enjoying the animals and natural habitats along the Farmyard Loop. The trail also includes several optional detours to the wilder areas of the sanctuary, some covering rougher ground, which you are welcome to explore if you choose to.
Distance: 0.4 mile round trip trail
- The surface is a combination of nine-foot wide paved walkway and hard-packed road.
- The path slopes downhill from the Nature Center between markers 8 and 10, with benches available for rest stops at the steepest sections.
- There is a picnic area after stop 17.
There is an audio tour for both segments of our accessible trail. You can access the audio tour three ways:
- You can call 781-443-7154 on your cell phone. This tour is available by phone April through December.
- You can download the Audio Tour from the website and play it on your personal audio player when you visit.
- You can borrow an audio player at the Nature Center admission window.
I hope this gives your friends at least something to consider. Hopefully other people will offer more suggestions.