Feature Article - May/June 2005
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Universal Thinking

Just how accessible is your facility?

By Stacy St. Clair

Imagine never feeling warm beach sand on a sunny day. Or telling your child he can't play ball with his friends in the neighborhood park. Or spending your entire life in one city and never being able to visit its most popular tourist attraction.

For 37 million Americans, these scenarios can be an everyday reality. An estimated 19 percent of the population—nearly one out of every five people—has a disability.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, a law passed by the U.S. Congress in 1990, requires new and renovated facilities to be accessible to all users.

While the law has significantly increased recreation opportunities for people with disabilities, it hasn't cleared all obstacles. Many facilities have not yet become compliant, and others still need to go beyond the law to make their parks and buildings truly open to all patrons.

Accessible facilities are more than just a legal obligation, they're a moral imperative. A recent study by the National Organization on Disabilities shows people with disabilities are twice as likely to avoid participating in their community as people without limitations. The poll specifically cites attending sporting events and using recreation facilities as evaded activities.

Put simply, recreation managers who make their facilities accessible will create opportunities for an often unengaged segment of the population—as well as boost patronage.

"Don't think of it as helping one group, think of it as making [facilities] available to everyone," says Scott Stover, parks program manager for the San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department in Texas. "If you make something accessible, people will use it."

Stover should know. His city has done such an admirable job improving accessibility, the federal government considers it one of the country's ADA success stories.