Outdoor recreation has been an important part of my life that has been severely restricted since my spinal cord injury in 1988. Early in that period, there were few outdoor areas that had any type of trails that would accommodate a power wheelchair. My attempts to accompany friends on excursions into the redwoods or even a short jaunt onto a beach or a 'hike' into the desert or forests usually resulted in me being stuck in the sand or hung up on a rock or tree root.
Things have changed, and will soon change even more if the money can be found to make the improvements that will soon become a requirement for Federal government agencies and eventually for all outdoor areas open to the public.
It must be acknowledged here that the Federal government has not been sitting around doing nothing when it comes to opening up the outdoors for people with all types of disabilities.
While working in California, I was on a committee composed of accessibility experts and several federal agencies that were planning the work needed to provide or improve outdoor access to public recreation. As part of that committee's work, we surveyed the accessibility of completed projects in Yosemite National Park, and I was pleased to be able to get up close and personal to many of the headline features in the park. I know that work is continuing at Yosemite, other national parks and most federal outdoor properties, even though funding has not been earmarked to fulfill all of the great plans that have been developed but set aside for now.
My purpose in sharing this is to call your attention to a work product that we will all benefit from in the years ahead . Check out the latest announcement about an important work product generated by the U.S. Access Board and make sure that your nearby federal outdoor facilities begin to make the proper improvements during the coming months. Since these same guidelines will eventually become part of the ADA Architectural Guidelines too, you might also want to share them with any managers at state or local parks and outdoor access sites so they can begin to do the right thing as soon as possible.
Press release from the Access Board:
On September 26th the U.S. Access Board issued new accessibility guidelines for outdoor areas developed by the federal government. The guidelines provide detailed specifications for accessible trails, picnic and camping areas, viewing areas, beach access routes and other components of outdoor developed areas when newly built or altered. They also provide exceptions for situations where terrain and other factors make compliance impracticable.
“The Board is eager to release these guidelines, which were long in the making, to explain how access to the great outdoors can be achieved,” states Access Board Chair Karen L. Braitmayer, FAIA. “The greatest challenge in developing these guidelines was balancing what’s needed for accessibility against what’s possible in natural environments with limited development.”
Requirements for trails, outdoor recreation access routes, and beach access routes address surface characteristics, width, and running and cross slopes. Exceptions are included for these and other provisions under certain conditions stipulated in the guidelines. Departures are allowed where compliance is not practicable because of terrain or prevailing construction practices. Exceptions are also recognized where compliance would conflict with mandates such as the Endangered Species Act and other laws or where it would fundamentally alter a site’s function or purpose.
The guidelines originate from recommendations prepared by an advisory panel chartered by the Board, the Outdoor Developed Areas Regulatory Negotiation Committee. They were made available for public comment twice and finalized according to the feedback received. The rule applies only to national parks and other federal sites, but the Board plans to follow-up with rulemaking to address non-federal sites under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) at a later date.
“The Board is moving ahead to issue the guidelines first for federal sites out of expediency,” explains Braitmayer. “In developing its guidelines, the Board must assess and aggregate their impacts. The Board was able to complete the necessary assessment on sites in the federal sector, but will require more time to analyze the impacts on the broader range of sites controlled by state and local governments covered by the ADA.”
The rule applies to federal agencies that develop outdoor areas for recreational purposes, including the National Park Service, the Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Bureau of Reclamation. The new requirements will become mandatory on November 25, 2013 as part of the Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Standards, which apply to facilities that are built, altered, or leased with federal funds.
The Board will conduct a public webinar on the new rule on October 17 from 2:30 to 4:00 (ET). To register for this free webinar, visit www.accessibilityonline.org.
For further information on the rule, visit the Board’s website or contact Bill Botten at firstname.lastname@example.org, (202) 272-0014 (v), or (202) 272-0073 (TTY).
© 2013 Michael Collins |