The ADA Is a Tremendous.Opportunity!

Article excerpt

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a sweeping federal civil rights law. Almost five years old, the ADA was preceded by other federal laws which have affected public parks and recreation agencies since the late 1960s.

When the law passed Congress in 1990 (with a more than 80% majority), it had strong bipartisan support. It was the culmination of a decade of effort to recognize the civil rights of people with disabilities. Both Former President Bush and President Clinton have supported the measure because it is right. And we support it too.

A woman with multiple sclerosis should be able to get in and out of a newly constructed swimming pool and enjoy swimming, even if it means a lift is installed at the pool. Our members provide recreation programs that change the lives of the children and adults who enjoy them. We talk about these programs in each issue of Parks & Recreation magazine, at countless state and regional conferences and seminars, and at our annual NRPA Congress for Recreation and Parks. And it goes without saying that our members' programs change the lives of those with disabilities who enjoy them. A 12-year-old boy who has autism should have the same opportunity as his brothers and sisters without disabilities to enjoy a summer camp program, even if it means an extra staff member or a behavior plan.

Our members provide opportunities to build selfesteem, develop lifelong leisure skills and make friendships. More of our members than ever before include children with disabilities in programs along side children without disabilities. A nine-year-old girl who is deaf should be able to understand the strategy discussed by her hockey league coach-thanks to a sign language interpreter provided by the league-and enjoy the camaraderie of sports.

More of our members' new buildings and parks are built to be useable by all. We have seen this type of change before. Do any of us still believe playgrounds were safer before federal industry standards? We adjusted to the demand for safety in playgrounds, and we can adjust to the demand for access to playgrounds. In fact, most of us are doing it already. An eight-year-old boy using a wheelchair can get across a playground surface and enjoy the new and exciting playground equipment.

Are this law and its related regulations perfect? No. As with any law, there are some requirements that should be changed. Here are several suggestions for Congress and federal agencies:

Make the issuance of recreation design guidelines a priority. Guidelines for the design of recreation facilities and areas were to have been prepared by 1992. They weren't, and still aren't. The federal agency responsible for developing accessible design guidelines is making progress with proposed guidelines for pools, sports facilities, amusement parks, golf courses, boating and fishing areas, and playgrounds within the next year. But stay on target...we want guidelines and we want them done right.

Honor what we have done so far. Many agencies met the 1995 deadline for making existing facilities accessible. Recognize this good faith effort and don't make cities, counties and park districts go back and change these sites, unless there is an alteration in the law. …