Feature Article - January 2011
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Are You Accessible?

Tips From the Pros on Compliance With New ADA Standards

By Margaret Ahrweiler


Buyer Beware?

When purchasing anything from accessible docks to picnic tables to exercise equipment, York offered a caveat: When seeking accessible equipment, buyers need to beware that products labeled accessible may not necessarily fit the bill. "Saying something is accessible doesn't necessarily make it so," she said. What's more, buyers should think twice about buying two separate versions of the same product—accessible and non-accessible—and instead consider using just one product that incorporates universal design, to streamline purchasing and replacement.

Recreation professionals also should consider using their purchasing clout to spur manufacturers to create products that are more accessible, York suggested. "Buyers can influence the market and shouldn't be afraid to ask for products that address accessibility," she said. At a recent trade show, one manufacturer produced fitness equipment for outdoors that didn't meet accessibility standards, while its competitors' products did. Guess whose products sold more?

Finally, she cautioned that meeting the 2010 accessibility standards means more than just buying the right equipment. Planners need to consider layout and access points, she added, noting countless examples of benches that block pathways or exits from restrooms that leave no room to maneuver once a person exits the space.

While the new standards are bound to set countless rounds of planning, renovation, debate, haggling and litigation, they will ultimately expand access to recreational facilities. And since every facility, be it private, public or commercial, shares the same goal—to attract more users—the new rules will benefit operators in the long run.

To put the costs and efforts behind meeting the new regulations in perspective, several professionals suggested comparing it with the money invested in "greening" recreation facilities through sustainable design.

"There's not a single recreation district in this country that is going to be sued because they're not 'green' enough," said McGovern.

Grumbling foot-draggers should also note the new standards are a rarity in the federal government, a popular bipartisan effort. The changes began in George W. Bush's administration and were finalized under Barack Obama's.

Finally, York put the changes in historical perspective: "With the first set of standards in 1991, ultimately barrier removal was accomplished without a whole lot of fuss and expense. You look at thresholds that might keep people out—those are the easiest kinds of barriers to remove."

What's more, the general population came to appreciate the changes: When curb cuts came to city sidewalks, York related, the population group that celebrated them most was delivery people.

Ultimately, able-bodied people will celebrate the new changes just as well.