Feature Article - November 2006
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Special Supplement: Problem-Solver Guidebook

By Stacy St. Clair and Emily Tipping



Choosing and Placing Park Components for Accessibility

On the 15th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Act, signed into law in July 1990, U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona, M.D., released a call to action to improve the health and wellness of people with disabilities. One of the four goals included in this statement was to increase awareness among the disabled of how they can develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle is taking part in community and recreational events. With 54 million Americans—one in five people in the United States—living with at least one disability, it is critical to provide accessible parks. It's also the law.

Q: I want to be sure my site furnishings are ADA-compliant and wheelchair-accessible. What do I need to know?

A: When furnishing your park with benches, picnic tables and other components, you need to make sure you adhere to ADA rules.

To be wheelchair-accessible, a picnic table's knee space should allow a minimum of 27 inches in height, 30 inches in width and 19 inches in depth. Toe clearance must have a minimum 9-inch height and extend an additional 5-inch minimum from the knee clearance. Clear floor space must be a minimum of 30 inches by 48 inches, with one fully unobstructed side connected to an outdoor recreation route. The table clearance must have a minimum of 36 inches of clear floor or ground space surrounding the usable portion of the table, measured from the seat.

To ensure you purchase ADA-compliant components, just ask your vendor for some assistance. Most companies will be glad to help you find what you need, and will ensure it meets ADA specifications as well.

Q: We have a lot of site visitors who are handicapped. How can I be sure I'm placing benches and tables in the right place?

A: When you spend your budget dollars on site furnishings, you want to ensure they are used to their full potential. Putting benches and picnic tables in the right place can make or break their usage.

Don't place your benches and picnic tables too far off the beaten path. You'll attract graffiti artists and create mowing difficulties. More importantly, you'll make it difficult for handicapped patrons to reach these key gathering spots.

To help disabled patrons get to a spot to sit or picnic, be sure to place some benches and picnic tables along a cement or paved path.

Q: We've spent a lot of time and money ensuring that our park offers plenty of activities and components for patrons with disabilities. How can we let them know about what our site offers?

A: According to the National Organization on Disabilities, people who are disabled are twice as likely to avoid participating in their communities as people without disabilities. This includes such activities as attending sporting events and using recreation facilities. So, how can you encourage people to use your facility?

Post information about accessibility in a central location. Make a site map that points out accessible picnic and seating areas, as well as wheelchair-accessible paths. A visitor center, park office or even just a bulletin board located near the park entrance are all ideal places to post information about accessibility.

You can also publicize accessibility information through press releases and your general outreach. When you publicize your facility's special programs, be sure to include information about accessibility in your announcements. Also, go beyond print media to get the word out. By taking advantage of radio and television, you can reach a wider audience.


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