Developing Access Requirements for Recreation
Facilities and Outdoor Developed Areas:
A Chance to Comment
by John N. McGovern
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requires Illinois parks and recreation agencies to provide services and activities without discrimination on the basis of disability. As part of this requirement, all new parks and recreation facilities, structures and outdoor areas; and facilities, structures or areas being altered, to incorporate accessibility features. While Illinois leisure service agencies have been attempting compliance in good faith, one key element has been absent: design guidelines 'for recreation facilities and outdoor developed areas.
To address this problem, a federal advisory committee, the Recreation Advisory Committee, was established this past summer by the United States Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board). The purpose of this Committee is to provide advice and information to the Access Board on the subject of design guidelines for new and altered facilities. The Access Board has the authority to develop minimum guidelines for the design of newly constructed and altered recreational facilities and outdoor developed areas, which are subject to the requirements of the ADA.
The Illinois Park and Recreation Association (IPRA) nominated John McGovern, Executive Director of the Northern Suburban Special Recreation Association in Northfield, Illinois, to serve on the Committee. McGovern is also supported by the Illinois Association of Park Districts, the National Park and Recreation Association and other affiliated organizations. Others on the Committee include private sector representatives, federal agency representatives, designers, disability advocacy groups and state and local government officials. The Committee will examine design requirements for every type of facility or built leisure environment, and for outdoor developed areas as well. These include, but are not limited to, sports facilities, amusement parks and attractions, swimming pools, golf courses, outdoor developed recreation areas, recreational fishing and boating areas, and playgrounds.
Issues Facing the Committee
1. To what degree should access be designed into a new, more primitive, outdoor environment?
2. How can the concept of integration be addressed by design in a new or altered playground setting?
3. Can signage or pictures be effectively used in new or altered outdoor settings to communicate accessible features to users?
4. Should design guidelines assume that all people, regardless of disability, will have access to new or altered higher risk recreation facilities and areas, such as bungee platforms, high water slides, white water rafting facilities, etc.?
5. Where the same piece of playground equipment, such as spring rockers, are located near each other in a new or altered playground, should each piece be accessible?
6. Should the entire surface around new or altered playground play equipment be completely accessible, which may be defined as firm, stable, slip resistant and resilient (per ASTM F1292), or should design guidelines permit loose fill surfacing?
7. Should every sand trap in a new or altered golf course be accessible?
8. Can every new or altered dock, when considering tidal changes, be made fully accessible?
9. Should direct access (e.g., by a ramp) on and to playground equipment diminish in correspondence to the height of the structure or equipment?
These and other difficult questions are being considered by the Committee and subcommittees. The Committee has started from the position that design of new facilities and areas shall incorporate full accessibility, unless unique natural conditions or a genuine safety concern exists. So while these questions may appear as black and white issues, the importance of articulating a reason why full access will not be provided cannot be understated.
For example, a safety concern could be the inclusion of resiliency as a characteristic of surfacing. The existing accessible design guideline, the Americans With Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities (ADAAG), requires accessible surfaces to be firm, stable and slip resistant. In a playground fall zone, however, the likelihood of serious injury from falling on a firm surface is well known. Therefore, adding resiliency as a fourth characteristic of an accessible surface seems appropriate.
Illinois Parks and Recreation 14 November/December 1993
What Have Illinois Agencies Done in the Absence of a Design
Some entities have adhered to voluntary guidelines such as SOBA (States Organization for Boating Access), ASTM Fl 5.29 (American Society for Testing and Materials Public Playground Equipment Guideline), the 1990 draft Department of Interior and United States Forest Service Design Guide for Accessible Outdoor Recreation, and the soon to be published Forest Service design guide for universal access to outdoor recreation.
Feedback on what agencies have done in the absence of an enforceable design standard, and the usefulness of the voluntary guidelines mentioned above, would be very helpful.
IPRA and IAPD members should also seek input from people with disabilities who use our recreation facilities, parks, pools, golf courses, shooting ranges, playgrounds, beaches, arenas and other areas. This accessible design guideline, once in effect, will shape the way in which we serve everyone who uses our facilities and areas.
Why Is It Important to Comment?
This is an impressive 500% increase in two years, but still only around one-half of 1% of the number of states and local governments. Illinois alone should generate 300 comments on the recreation guideline, when it is proposed.
Access Board Action
This regulation may also provide some guidance on public swimming pools. Other areas to be addressed are the number of entrances to a local government building which shall be required to be accessible, and whether building directories must include telephones to enable people who are blind to retrieve directory information.
The Access Board also approved the suspension of the regulation requiring raised truncated domes as detectable warnings. The detectable warning requirement remains, but park districts, forest preserve districts and municipalities will have some latitude as to how to meet that requirement.
These actions will be published in the Federal Register sometime in January 1994 and are effective upon publication. The publication of these regulations will address some unanswered questions about accessibility. Look for an update in later issues of Illinois Parks & Recreation.
For More Information
To become involved in the Illinois effort to review and comment on the work of the Committee, contact John McGovern at (708) 501-4332.
About the Author
Illinois Parks and Recreation 15 November/December 1993