Feature Article - January 2011
Find a printable version here

Are You Accessible?

Tips From the Pros on Compliance With New ADA Standards

By Margaret Ahrweiler


Recreation facilities need to start planning immediately, agreed Rob Sperl, director of planning for the Wheaton Park District in Wheaton, Ill., a Chicago suburb of about 55,000. Wheaton may be in better shape than most districts, he said, because it began preparing for more stringent accessibility standards in 2004, when it took a formal accessibility survey with its special recreation partner, the Western DuPage Special Recreation Association, said Sperl. Wheaton also has been working with McGovern on an accessibility inventory and made a priority list, he said.

While many recreation professionals would rather not spend the extra time and money upgrading their accessibility, the process will pay off as facility usage increases, counseled Dr. Sherril York, director of the National Center on Accessibility at Indiana University. Millions of disabled users have plenty of discretionary income to spend, as long as they can access the places to spend it, she said.

Demographics of the disabled can be startling: 54.4 million Americans reported some level of disability in 2005, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, with 35 million severely disabled. More specifically:

  • 11 million people over the age of 6 needed personal assistance with everyday activities.
  • 3.3 million age 15 or older used a wheelchair.
  • 10.2 million used a cane, crutches or walker.
  • 7.8 million had trouble seeing words in formats like this magazine, and 1.8 million could not see at all.
  • 7.8 million had difficulty hearing conversations; this did not include people who used hearing aids.

What's more, these numbers don't include senior citizens who, despite diminished mobility, refuse to count themselves as disabled—a number sure to rise with the aging baby boomers.

"The disabled constitute a significant portion of our population," said John Caden, director of pool lifts for an aquatic supply company and an industry expert on accessibility regulations. Caden suggests looking at accessibility laws differently to appreciate what they're trying to do. "I like to tell people, 'What if you said that this law—or the barriers unfortunately in place—applies to women?' You'd never bar someone from using a facility because they're female," he noted. "You have to consider disabled people the same way."

While most recreation professionals think of physical barriers for users in wheelchairs, York reminded that planners need to consider people with other impairments, such as visual.

"We always find it interesting that we can go to places that will have brochures in multiple languages—won't have Braille and large print but will have something in Portuguese. They're trying to meet demand, but they're not meeting their legal requirements," she said. "Chances are, you're going to have more disabled users than Portuguese users."