Feature Article - October 2008
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All-Access Recreation

Going Beyond ADA to Meet All Needs

By Stacy St Clair



A Moral Imperative

Despite their costs, the changes can create a wonderful challenge for recreation managers, who dedicate themselves to providing their communities with healthy lifestyles and entertaining diversions. For more than 51 million Americans with disabilities, spending the day at the park or working out after a long day at the office isn't always an option.

While the existing rules have increased recreation opportunities for people with disabilities, they haven't removed all the barriers. Studies show people with disabilities are twice as likely to avoid participating in their communities as people without limitations. The poll specifically cites attending sporting events and using recreation facilities as evaded activities.

No one can promise the current proposal will immediately solve the problem. Public comment period on the changes began in July, so the end result is still unknown.

But accessibility is not just a legal obligation, it's a moral imperative. Recreation facilities can—and should—be doing more, whether it's making sure families with autistic members feel welcomed, building a play garden all children can enjoy or simply having a Web site that everyone can use.

"We believe that access to recreation opportunities improves quality of life for all Americans including those people with disabilities," Dolesh said. "Therefore, access and inclusion are part of what we do and what we stand for."

The National Park Service (NPS), for example, has made a concerted effort in recent months to ensure that visitors with special needs know they have access to many of the same amenities and attractions enjoyed by 276 million people each year. In July, the NPS launched a Web site to help visitors with disabilities and special needs find accessible trails, programs, activities and other features at national park units nationwide.

The site shows the accessible trails and vistas for the visually impaired and the hearing impaired, as well as accessible camping and picnic areas. There's also the broad category of accessible opportunities for visitors with disabilities.

"It's my personal favorite of what the Web site has to offer," said Elise Cleva, the National Park Service intern who proposed the online service. "It tells you about places like the Longfellow site in Massachusetts where visitors who are visually impaired can go on a tour with a ranger of the historic home. They'll put on special gloves and be able to touch historic objects."

The site also promotes programs such as the week-long camp for the visually impaired at the Padre Island National Seashore in Texas. The program gives blind visitors a chance to learn about ocean life by going into the water and interacting with sea creatures.

va hopes the site allays myriad concerns for potential visitors. If someone in a wheelchair, for example, wants to vacation at the beach or the desert but isn't sure how they'll function in the sand, the site informs them that Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan and Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado are just two of the parks that offer sand wheelchairs.

The site is continuously updated, as any such Internet service must be in the modern age. When it was first launched, the National Park Service media relations department did not have the accessibility information for all locations. As the site's popularity grows, however, parks are contacting the office to make sure their amenities and programs are included.

The online service also helped park officials realize how much further they must go to address the needs and concerns of disabled visitors.

"One of my co-workers even said that this Web site makes parks aware that the NPS could be doing more for people with disabilities," Cleva said. "Maybe this will help so that more can be done."

Even as they contemplate how to improve the site, the park service knows that it's already helped families enjoy our natural, national treasures.

"We've recently received an e-mail from a man thanking us for the Web site," Cleva said. "He has a disabled child and was able to obtain an 'America the Beautiful Free Access Pass' for him, a pass that is free for citizens who have a lifelong disability, while visiting Rocky Mountain National Park because of the information we provided on our Web site. He was very happy."