U.S. Access Board Adopts Recreation Facility Accessibility Guidelines

By McGovern, John | Parks & Recreation, June 2002 | Go to article overview

U.S. Access Board Adopts Recreation Facility Accessibility Guidelines


McGovern, John, Parks & Recreation


How can a parks and recreation agency make certain that newly constructed swimming pools are accessible to people with disabilities? There are some obvious solutions, but until recently, no one could be certain that a solution was the lawful way to provide access. Soon there will be an answer.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that all new construction, including pools, sports facilities, golf courses, miniature golf courses, boating and fishing areas, and amusement parks, comply with federal guidelines for accessibility. But these guidelines were not created when ADA was enacted. In March, however, the U.S. Access Board approved minimum accessibility guidelines for pools and the other types of recreation sites mentioned above. Now in final review at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, publication of the final rules is expected this summer.

Evolution of Design Guidelines

In 1993 the U.S. Access Board appointed a federal advisory committee, made up of representatives from NRPA, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), several disability advocacy groups, and federal agencies that manage recreation land or sites (such as the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and Army Corps of Engineers). The Access Board appointed the NRPA representative as Chair of the Committee. The Committee, known as the Recreation Access Advisory Committee, worked for more than a year and provided a 200-page report with recommendations to the Access Board.

The Committee's recommendations were in six areas: playgrounds, sport facilities, golf courses, amusement parks, recreational boating and fishing areas, and outdoor recreation areas (beaches, campsites, picnic areas, trails, ski areas and scenic overlooks). Common issues addressed included accessible routes within the recreation sites; unique issues included getting from the deck into the water of a swimming pool. At the end of the Committee's term, the National Center on Accessibility was asked to research swimming pool access. NRPA was involved in that project as well. The Access Board reviewed the public comment in reaction to the publication of the Recreation Access Advisory Committee report.

In the end, the Access Board felt that the initial work was sufficient to develop minimum accessibility guidelines for sports facilities, golf courses, amusement parks, and recreational boating and fishing areas. However, two other areas, playgrounds and outdoor recreation areas, would need a different approach.

What is a Reg Neg Committee?

The Access Board appointed the Play Areas Regulatory Negotiation Committee in 1996. A "Reg Neg" committee operates differently from other federal advisory committees. First, there is no committee Chair. Instead, a mediator is hired to facilitate the consensus process. A Reg Neg committee includes representatives from organizations affected by the subject (in this instance, playgrounds) and others who negotiate a consensus guideline. This Reg Neg committee included NRPA, ASTM, ASLA, the National Society of Elementary School Principals, the National PTA, the National Spina Bifida Association, the Association of People with Severe Disabilities, the International Playground Equipment Manufacturers Association, and other groups with a consumer or management interest in playgrounds. This committee met over two years and developed a consensus guideline.

After the Access Board's rulemaking process, it published the consensus guidelines in October 2000 in the Federal Register. It is the current, final word on playground design.

In 1997, the Access Board appointed another Reg Neg committee, again with NRPA representation, to address outdoor recreation areas that are developed, such as campsites, picnic areas, beaches and trails. That committee finished its work and the Access Board continues to work on those guidelines. …

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