Facility Accessibility: Opening the Doors to All; Accessibility Does Not Happen by Itself-You Have to Plan for It!

By Petersen, Jeffrey C.; Piletic, Cindy K. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, May-June 2006 | Go to article overview

Facility Accessibility: Opening the Doors to All; Accessibility Does Not Happen by Itself-You Have to Plan for It!


Petersen, Jeffrey C., Piletic, Cindy K., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


A facility developed for fitness, physical activity, recreation, or sport is a vital community resource that contributes to the overall health and wellness of people in any community. In order to maximize the benefits derived from these facilities, it is important that they be accessible to as wide a range of people as possible. Because of the increasing number of individuals with disabilities in our country, and society's increased awareness of this population, the issue of facility accessibility has become more of a priority for facility staff and supervisors.

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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 (PL 101-336) was created with the intent to offer equitable services for individuals with and without disabilities. This federal legislation affected programs, equipment, and facilities, creating accessibility so that everyone could benefit (Seidler, Turner, & Horine, 1993). Nevertheless, after more than a decade since ADA's passage, a study examining ADA compliance and accessibility of physical activity facilities in Oregon found not one facility out of 50 to be 100 percent compliant (Cardinal & Spaziani, 2003). Other research indicates that inaccessibility of facilities is still a major barrier to participation in physical activity by individuals with disabilities (Rimmer, Riley, Wang, Ravworth, & Jurkowski, 2004).

Barriers to participation tend to fall into several categories, including perceived attitudes of individuals with disabilities, perceived attitudes of individuals without disabilities, environmental barriers (i.e., transportation), and facilities' structural accessibility. The effect of these barriers can be seen in participation statistics. Healthy People 2010 reported that 56 percent of adults with disabilities do not engage in any leisure-time physical activity, compared to 36 percent of individuals without disabilities (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000). John Rimmer, professor of disability and human development at the University of Illinois-Chicago, states that many people do not realize that individuals with disabilities can live a healthy and active lifestyle ("UIC Awarded," 2002). While numerous barriers to physical activity for those with disabilities have been identified, this article will focus primarily on the structural barriers to facility accessibility.

Brief History of Accessibility Legislation

During the 20th century, societal reform was sought through the woman's rights movement of the early 1900s, the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and the disability rights movement of the 1990s. Two of the driving forces behind the disability rights movement have been the return of injured war veterans needing educational and employment opportunities and the growing number of people with disabilities living in the United States. According to recent demographic trends, the need for accessible facilities will continue to increase.

The average lifespan in the United States has greatly increased during the last century. In fact, the older adult population (individuals 65 years and older) is expected to increase from approximately 12 percent of the United States population in 2000 to approximately 20 percent by 2030 (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1997). Additionally, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2003) report projected that by 2030 more than 19 million individuals will be over the age of 80 years. Not only are individuals living longer, but more individuals are living with disabilities. In 1997, it was reported that approximately nine million people of all ages have a severe disability (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1997). The census also reported that 52.5 percent of individuals over 65 years had a disability, while 18.7 percent of those between 15 to 64 years of age had a disability, and 9.1 percent of children under the age of 15 years had a disability.

Since the majority of facility accessibility improvements have been made in response to federal legislation, it is helpful to have some understanding of this legislation's historical development. …

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