ADA Approved and Other Accessible Product Myths: Choosing Products to Improve Access at Your Parks & Facilities
Choosing products for use in a park or recreation facility can sometimes be challenging and overwhelming with the overload of information from manufacturers and accessibility guidelines to consider. This monograph introduces the major considerations for purchasing products to improve access for people with disabilities in recreation environments including:
Assessing the needs of your facility;
Getting feedback from other customers; and
Leveraging your purchasing power.
The First Step: Do Your Homework
What should I ask when purchasing a product to improve access?
Buyers have the responsibility of determining what product will work best for their situation and should ask several questions before purchasing. When choosing a product and/or service, buyers should ask:
Assess Your Facility Needs
To improve access within your park or facility, consider starting the process by conducting an accessibility assessment. This assessment should identify all of the barriers to your programs, activities, goods and services along with potential solutions to improve access. Once you have identified all of the barriers, you can begin a prioritization process for barrier removal. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the U.S. Department of Justice recommends barrier removal priorities as:
Parking and entry
Places where goods and services are made available to the public
Other amenities such as drinking fountains, telephones, etc.
Before purchasing a product, you should know the specifications required by the accessibility standards and guidelines to ensure the product you are purchasing is in compliance with those guidelines. Ask the vendor for a “spec sheet” so that you can compare the product specs with the accessibility guidelines.
For example, if you are about to purchase new picnic tables, ask the vendor for a “spec sheet” identifying all of the dimensions for the picnic table. Then compare the dimensions with the proposed technical provisions for accessible picnic tables in the Draft Final Guidelines for Outdoor Developed Areas (2009). Does the table have a clear width to accommodate a person seated in a wheelchair? Depending on the size of the table, are the required number of wheelchair accessible seating locations provided? Is there knee clearance and toe clearance under the table?
Do not rely solely on manufacturer or vendor claims that their product meets or complies with the ADA. Ultimately, the owner of the facility is responsible for the accessibility of the facility and its programs, not the vendors who sell the products.
Many advertisements claim products to be “ADA Approved” or call the product itself “ADA Table” or “ADA Surface.” There is no organization or governmental body that reviews products for compliance with the ADA or that has the authority to give “ADA Approval” for any product. This wording is misleading and may cause you to end up with products that do not provide optimum access. Be sure to compare products with accessibility guidelines and standards before you make a purchase.
In many instances, installation of the product will ultimately determine if the product is accessible. When purchased, a product may meet all of the accessibility guidelines, however if it is not properly installed it will be rendered inaccessible.
After installation, maintenance is the method through which you ensure your products remain accessible. Maintenance of accessible features is required under the ADA, the ADA-ABA Accessibility Guidelines and the International Building Code (IBC):
Many products, specifically mechanical and electronic devices, will require regular testing by staff to ensure the device operates as intended, especially before visitor use. Power sources for outdoor products are some of the elements that will require testing. Moisture and debris may penetrate the power source housing causing the power source to fail. For example, a lift installed for outdoor use should be tested weekly to ensure it is good operation. Another example may include periodic testing to ensure batteries are charged for use in devices like assistive listening systems.
Staff training is essential to ensure products are accessible and usable by visitors. Staff should know how to operate mechanical and electronic devices so they can provide accurate demonstrations for visitors. For example, staff should know the correct use of assistive listening devices including battery size and installation, microphone use, volume adjustment and how to turn the device on and off.
Products to enhance accessibility should also facilitate independent use for people with disabilities. Products should be usable by people with disabilities in the most integrated and dignified design possible. If people without disabilities can move through the facility and use facility amenities independently, so too should people with disabilities. People with disabilities should NOT be required to depend on others or ask others for help when accessing recreational facilities. For example, if people without disabilities can move independently from one portion of a building to another by stairs, and the only accessible route for a person using a mobility device is by lift, use of the lift should facilitate independent operation. The person who uses a mobility device should not have to ask for a key or staff person to turn the lift on or operate it for them. In addition to dignified and age-appropriate designs, designs should foster inclusion and not unintentionally segregate families. Consider that a parent with a disability may bring his children to your facility. The parent will want to participate in activities with his children as well as be able to access a child in case of an injury or other emergency situation.
The product materials should fit into the design scheme and setting appropriate to your site. The materials should resist vandalism and be able to stand up to weather conditions. If your site has a high volume of visitors, the materials should be durable enough to withstand heavy use. Make sure the products are intended for commercial use and not residential use as products made for commercial use are meant to withstand a higher frequency of use than those made for residential settings. In most instances, accessibility guidelines establish the criteria for the products or environments but do not require the use of specific materials. The guidelines leave the material choice open to designers to fit into design schemes, etc. For example, the proposed guidelines for outdoor developed areas require a “firm and stable” surface for outdoor paths, but leave the method of achieving this to the designer; thereby refraining from identifying one or a list of specific surface materials to use. This allows the designer maximum flexibility in choosing the most appropriate product. Products used outdoors should resist weathering while reducing glare. If the product is tactile (meant to be touched), the material should be able to withstand the heat of the sun and the cold of winter. Some outdoor models and exhibits may become very hot or cold due to exposure to different weather conditions and climates. To avoid safety risks to visitors that may touch the tactile exhibits, the material should not conduct extreme temperatures that may result in burns or other injury.
Temporary vs. Permanent Installation
Some products like swimming pool lifts and portable ramps are available for temporary as opposed to permanent installation. When products are not installed permanently additional staff time and labor is required to install and remove the product when necessary. Products that are installed on a temporary basis may also require advanced planning to ensure staff is available to install the product upon request. Often the burden is placed on visitors with disabilities to know that they “should call ahead” to have the product installed or have to wait for its installation while on site. This should be avoided whenever possible. For example, many pool lifts are not permanently installed, often they are removed by pool staff to avoid weathering and rust. While this may enhance the life of the product, it is prudent that the lift be available as installed during pool hours of operation. This will avoid causing the patron to wait while the lift is being installed and then checked for proper operation. When the lift’s daily installation is added as part of the standard operating procedure, it removes the chance that enough staff may not be available to install it if it is only installed upon request. As this example shows, temporary products can have higher maintenance, staffing and customer satisfaction consequences than permanent fixtures.
Use of the International Symbol of Accessibility
Oftentimes the International Symbol of Accessibility (ISA) is overused. This symbol of access should only be used to lead a person with a disability to an accessible facility that may not be obvious. Under the ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines, the ISA is only required at:
Parking spaces designated as reserved for individuals with disabilities.
Accessible passenger loading zones.
Accessible entrances when not all are accessible.
Accessible elevators when not all are accessible.
Accessible toilet and bathing facilities when not all are accessible.
Accessible check out aisles when not all are accessible.
Always ask the vendor for customer references. Current and previous customers can relate how the product worked for their site, type of environment and additional considerations. The value of contacting these customers lies in the information each may provide regarding costs, hidden costs, installation, accessibility, usability, and maintenance. Because they have the first-hand experience with the product, the customers on the reference list and your colleagues in the field are your best sources of information when it comes to purchasing a product.
In addition to talking to customers that have used the product, gather input from visitors, guests and local citizens with disabilities. Through their participation in recreation activities, local citizens with disabilities may have previous experience with some products and be able to offer some additional feedback prior to purchase. Gathering visitor feedback should not stop once you have purchased and installed the new accessible product. Consider developing an informal customer survey for visitors that use the new product to continue evaluation of the product’s usability and effectiveness. For example, when a visitor returns an assistive listening device to the information desk, the staff could ask “How did it work?” Maybe there is static in the headset or perhaps the batteries are running low mid-way through the program. Such an inquiry can generate immediate feedback on the product’s operation and enable staff to respond quickly to solving the problem before future use. For assistance in identifying people with disabilities that can provide feedback on usability prior to purchase and during their visit to your park or facility, contact your local center for independent living.
Your dollar has purchasing power when it comes to the acquisition of products to improve access to your facility. As a customer in a competitive marketplace working directly with the vendor and manufacturer can be of great benefit to ensure the products you are about to purchase will meet the full accessibility and usability needs of your park visitors with and without disabilities.
NCA Products Directory - The National Center on Accessibility hosts an online products directory designed to connect consumers, facility managers and purchasing officers to recreation products that could enhance accessibility to programs, services and facilities. The NCA Products Directory is an informational tool to be used as a buyer’s starting point in locating accessible products and services. NCA does not sell, promote, or endorse any product, service, or vendor listed in the Products Directory. Nor does NCA assume any responsibility or liability related to the accessibility, usability, or application of the products, services, and vendors listed.
The NCA Products Directory specializes in products specific to accessing park and recreation facilities. For a wider variety of recreation products, try the NRPA Supply Chain, advertisements with the National Recreation and Park Association. For listings common to the building trades industry, products are also advertised on the Sweets Network. Products designed for activities for daily living and general assistive technology are listed through the U.S. Department of Education funded ABLEDATA web site.
The citation for this article is:
National Center on Accessibility (August 2010). Choosing Products to Improve Access at Your Parks and Facilities.. Bloomington, IN: National Center on Accessibility, Indiana University-Bloomington. Retrieved from www.ncaonline.org.