Feature Article - January 2011
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Are You Accessible?

Tips From the Pros on Compliance With New ADA Standards

By Margaret Ahrweiler

Accessibility Outside

The new requirements also pay more attention to outdoor areas, most significantly in marine areas. Docks and boat ramps must now be accessible, with attention given to sight lines. A dock with a heavy railing that blocks a wheelchair-bound patron's view does not comply. The Access Board and Department of Justice sites both show common-sense designs to accommodate physically disabled users.

Boat docks serving everything from humble kayaks to luxury ocean yachts must meet the new standards. Again, many facilities planned in the past few years used the new guidelines before they became law. The Chicago Park District's new 31st Street Harbor, which began construction last year, featured a fishing pier and boat slips along Lake Michigan in its earliest designs. Similarly, Wheaton planners incorporated the new rules when they began renovating their Northside Park lagoon in 2009, so that five of the 10 canoe docks are accessible, and fishing areas have gaps and lower rails for disabled users.

Play areas must become more accessible under the new rules as well. Play areas at parks, schools, child care facilities and shopping centers must offer accessible ground and elevated play components, accessible routes, ramps and transfer systems, and accessible ground surfaces.

The recreation community may see continuing debate on ground surfaces, which were not specified by the new regulations—only "regular maintenance" is mandated. While there is clearly significant cost difference between engineered wood fiber (EWF) and unitary surfaces, said Wheaton's Benard, his district is turning to unitary surfaces to ensure they comply with ADA. What's more, they can avoid the maintenance and refilling that EWF requires, reducing overall costs.

"You may pay less but you're more likely to run afoul of ADA rules," he said. Many districts find it hard to keep up with the constant fill required under swings and slides, and the regular fill addition needed to counteract compression. He also recommended the use of grants to offset the higher installation costs of unitary surfaces.

One outdoor area was left out of the new regulations, however: trails and outdoor developed areas. Those guidelines are still in draft form, said Indiana's York, and are not enforceable standards. Instead, they're considered "best practice," she said, and ultimately will be adopted for inclusion in ADA standards as an addition to its Chapter 10 on Recreational Facilities.