Feature Article - January 2011
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Are You Accessible?

Tips From the Pros on Compliance With New ADA Standards

By Margaret Ahrweiler

Making Cost-Effective Changes

With an economy wracked by recession, paying for the required changes remains a top concern of recreation professionals, but accessibility experts suggest looking at upgrades as a long-term investment to attract more patrons. As a civil rights law, ADA does not come with funds for implementation, said York, but she suggested facilities seek community foundations among other sources of grant money.

Wheaton's Benard suggested that smaller districts develop partnerships to pool their resources to seek grants, even sharing the cost of a grant writer to "bird dog" possibilities. Consultants' fees can more than pay for themselves through money-saving accessibility ideas, he added, noting Wheaton's success with McGovern's firm. Community groups also can help with fundraising and improvements. Wheaton's first fully accessible playground, completed at Northside Park in 1984, was sponsored by the Rotary Club.

Another silver lining: The historic recession and resulting nosedive of the construction industry means facilities will see aggressively low bidding on renovations and accessibility upgrades. But managers need to act quickly, said Wheaton's Sperl "This is 13 months from now," he warned. "Very few agencies can figure out a program and execute in that time."

Juggling the books can also make room in tight budgets. Shifting the renovations from the capital improvements to the operations column can help free money, Caden suggested, and the $4,000 to $10,000 spent on pool lifts, for example, can be recouped quickly through greater customer traffic.

"You get people complaining that they have to conform to the new standards because they never get any disabled people coming into their facility, but they haven't considered why they don't get that population," he said.

By marketing their facilities as user-friendly, facility managers can build traffic to not only cover costs but expand their client base. "You don't need to call it handicapped-accessible," he added. " 'User friendly' means you can accommodate a wide spectrum of customers." An additional 100 customers spending $40 will pay for a basic lift.

Tax credits of up to $5,000 also are available for small businesses such as motels, Caden added, as long as they employ less than 30 full-time staff and post sales of less than $1 million. Cash-strapped recreation facilities also can look into obtaining equipment like pool lifts under a lease program.

York also reminded recreation professionals that the law doesn't require every Title II entity to be accessible to achieve program success. Priority is given to access for facilities that support programs and activities that promote the most integrated setting for people with disabilities. In Wheaton, its Rathje Park preschool, housed in an old brick foursquare home, is not handicapped accessible, but does not have to be renovated because the district offers an identical program at its fully accessible Community Center building. Historic buildings also fall outside the new requirements.