Feature Article - January 2011
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Are You Accessible?

Tips From the Pros on Compliance With New ADA Standards

By Margaret Ahrweiler

If You Build It, They Will Come

While that adage applies to baseball fields in the middle of Iowa, it now also applies to playing fields—and every other form of recreational facilities across the United States for disabled users.

The 2010 ADA standards—formally known as Revisions to Title II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act—were announced in July 2010 and take effect March 15, 2011, with compliance required by March 15, 2012. They require that recreational facilities, not covered in the original 1991 Americans With Disabilities Act, be accessible to disabled users. All new construction must conform to the standards.

Among the areas they cover:

  • Amusement rides
  • Recreational boating facilities
  • Exercise machines and equipment
  • Fishing piers and platforms
  • Golf facilities
  • Miniature golf facilities
  • Play areas
  • Swimming pools, wading pools and spas
  • Shooting facilities with firing positions
  • Event seating
  • Service animals
  • Means of transportation for disabled people.

What does this mean for your facility? The short answer is that, short of natural areas and trails, every recreational facility must meet the same standards as other public and commercial spaces. The long answer is that the dense guidelines, filled with technical provisions and specifications, still leave room for questions and may have some recreational facilities scrambling to comply.

And while a new set of federal mandates that bring a new round of renovations can leave some site managers grumbling, many recreation professionals are counseling that facilities put a positive spin on the work they must do. Making their facilities accessible will open their businesses to a whole new client base, increasing traffic, exposure and positive word-of-mouth.

Advance planning pays off (as it does for most things) when it comes to the new rules, said John McGovern, president of Recreation Accessibility Consultants, based in Hoffman Estates, Ill. He counseled that, if they haven't already done so, recreation districts and facilities should take an accessibility inventory and create a response plan.

"Usually, park and rec departments without solid policies in place about accessibility will incur a much bigger hit," he said, to bring themselves up to the new guidelines.

None of the new standards should come as a surprise, McGovern added, since they adopt, word for word, the recommendations published by the U.S. Access Board in 2004. Districts in a leadership position, along with those active with special recreation programs, have been using those recommendations as guidelines for renovation and new construction work for the last six years, he added.