What to Know Before You Go:
The Big Questions to Ask Before Arriving at Your "Accessible" Recreation
By Susan Ostby and Jennifer Skulski,
National Center on Accessibility
Every day millions of people participate in recreational activities.
Recreation activities offer avenues for people with disabilities to
improve their health, their relationships, and their enjoyment of life.
In fact, recreational pursuits centered on physical activity and social
engagement can help to prevent secondary health problems such as obesity
and depression. Physical activity during recreation promotes weight-loss,
strength, flexibility, motor skills and self-confidence. Socializing
during recreation enables people to create new relational bonds and
strengthen old ones, leaving the individual with an enhanced self-image
and expanded social skills.
|Andy and his parents pose for a photo after a round
of golf. Photo courtesy of the National Alliance for Accessible
For people with disabilities, participating in recreation can have
lasting impact that significantly improves their quality of life.
However, the accessibility of a recreation program or facility can
affect the individual's experience and overall satisfaction with the
experience. One of the most frequently asked questions to NCPAD and
NCA is, "where can I find accessible recreation opportunities?" This
article will guide visitors in their search for accessible recreation
facilities and programs. We will explore some areas where you can
conduct initial searches for programs, who to contact and what questions
to ask before arriving at your recreation destination.
Background on Access to Recreation Facilities & Programs
Federal laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and
the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) require facilities to be accessible
to people with disabilities. For example, all newly constructed parks,
playgrounds, swimming pools, museums, theaters, federal buildings,
government facilities, and places of public accommodation are required
to comply with federal accessibility design guidelines.
In addition, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title
II of the ADA require programs and services to be made accessible
to people with disabilities. Programs and services provided by the
federal government, units of state and local government, along with
private businesses, are prohibited from discriminating against people
with disabilities. For example, a person who is blind or visually
impaired must receive the same opportunities and benefits from a program
as a person who is sighted. To achieve this, the site will need to
use effective communication to convey interpretive, safety and site
design information. (For more information, see Recreation
Access Rights under the ADA by John N. McGovern, JD, http://www.ncaonline.org/ncpad/rights.shtml)
To assist in understanding the physical accessibility of a site;
visitors with disabilities should become familiar with the accessibility
guidelines developed by the U.S. Access Board. These guidelines are
available online at www.access-board.gov
and cover physical access to buildings as well as recreation environments.
For assistance applying these guidelines to a recreational activity
or facility, contact the National Center on Accessibility (www.ncaonline.org).
Where to look
A number of organizations collect and promote accessible recreation,
sports, travel, and tourism opportunities. However, a comprehensive
clearinghouse of information on the vast subject of leisure or physical
activity does not exist. Thus, people interested in pursuing recreational
opportunities or new areas of interest may need to search more specifically
to that area of interest. There are some "starting points" in every
community to link you to new areas of leisure interests.
The National Center on Physical Activity and Disability has developed
a database of programs related to physical activity and disability.
The database is available online and searchable by state. An individual
with a disability, family member or caregiver can search for program
opportunities in their local community.www.ncpad.org
Many local park and recreation departments publish a listing of their
program offerings and area attractions in annual or quarterly community
guides. The guides are sometimes distributed by mail, inserted in
the Sunday section of the local newspaper or available at news stands
in neighborhood grocery stores. Check with your local park and recreation
department for a print copy. Some park and recreation departments
also make the listing available on their web site.
|This fall and winter program guide is published
by the Parks and Recreation Department of Bloomington, Indiana.
Whether by plane, train or automobile, people with disabilities
travel the nation and the globe in search of the perfect destination.
It is valuable then, that some advocacy organizations and magazines
have included travel tips and destination reviews on their web sites
and as regularly featured articles in their publications.
|City access guides for Atlanta, San Diego and
Many large cities like San Diego, Atlanta and New Orleans have
great recreational opportunities such as museums, theaters, sports
venues, shopping and dining. A number of large cities now have accessibility
guide booklets informing potential visitors as to the accessibility
of various attractions in the area.
AAA Travel Guide
The renowned AAA Motor Club has published travel guides for many
years. AAA now features a series of travel guides to large cities
highlighting accessible destinations in each of the cities. Check
your local AAA Motor Club or bookstore for the travel guides.
Convention & visitors bureaus
Many cities have convention and visitors bureaus created with the
distinctive purpose of promoting activities and attractions in the
surrounding area. While they are mostly used by visitors to the city,
they are underutilized by local citizens. Area convention and visitors
bureaus can serve as a valuable resource and help to answer that age
old question, "What is there to do around here?"
|This travel guide is published by the Bloomington,
IN Visitors Center.
National and state parks, forests and wildlife refuges
From Arcadia National Park and the Appalachian Mountains to Yellowstone
and Yosemite, there are plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities
in your own background or any place you would like to travel to
in the country. Several federal, state and local land management
agencies print park and facility guides which specifically detail
the accessible features at each attraction.
Park and recreation departments
The National Recreation and Park Association is the national membership
organization of more than 2,100 community park and recreation providers
in the United States. Check the yellow pages of your phone book
under "recreation" for your local park and recreation department.
Or search NRPA's directory for park and recreation agencies in your
Schools, local colleges
Colleges and universities throughout the nation provide fee-based
recreation activities, including fitness and wellness programs.
These activities are available to the public as well as to students,
faculty, and staff of the college. Colleges also have opportunities
for the sports enthusiast to catch exciting intercollegiate contests
in their area of interest including football, basketball, and track
and field. For those interested in the cultural arts, many college
campuses also include museums of art or natural history, musical
arts centers, auditoriums, and theaters.
Community centers and Y's
Community centers provide physical space where community members can
participate in social and recreational programs, and hold neighborhood
and political meetings. Different cultural, religious, or civic groups
may own the centers. Check your local yellow pages listings for "Community
Centers" or "Community Organizations." City park and recreation departments
also manage community centers; contact your local recreation department
for more information.
|Two friends enjoy a birthday party after their
aquatic class at the local YMCA.
With over 2,500 locations throughout the United States, the YMCA
is the largest non-profit community association in America. Each
YMCA offers a unique blend of programs and services, from childcare
to art and fitness classes. YMCA's can be found under "Exercise
and Physical Fitness Programs" in your yellow pages. Or, use the
following link to find a location near you:
Similar to the YMCA, the YWCA offers wellness and recreational
programs geared more specifically towards women and children.
Find a YWCA in your area by checking the yellow page listings
in your local phone directory or search the YWCA web site. www.ywca.org
Boys & Girls Clubs
The Boys and Girls Club of America youth organization provides
children with structured programs in arts, education, the environment,
recreation, leadership, and health. With 3,400 locations, including
Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, the Boys and Girls Club of
America has served more than 4 million boys and girls. Check the
yellow pages under "Youth Organizations and Centers" or go online
to search for the nearest club.
Special interest groups and private clubs
Perhaps you already have an interest in taking up a particular recreational
activity like water skiing, mountain biking or scrap booking. Many
activities such as these have local community groups and private clubs
center on bringing together people with similar interest. The easiest
place to start your search is in the Yellow Pages under your topic
of interest like kayaking, running or skiing. Two other places to
make inquiries: your local park and recreation department and local
sporting goods store. Many local park and recreation departments have
working relationships with special interests groups especially if
the group uses a facility of the parks department. Your local park
and recreation department can get you the contact information for
groups like the local figure skaters club and men's garden club. If
your area of interest uses sports equipment, networking with the local
sporting goods stores is also a good start. Sporting goods store staff
working in the bike department may be able to tell you where some
of the best bike trails are in the surrounding community, while other
staff in the running apparel department can tell you about the local
running clubs, fun runs and mini-marathons coming up on the calendar.
Who to contact
Before venturing out on an excursion or getting started in any recreational
activity, most park visitors with disabilities and their companions
want to know the accessibility of a recreation facility or program before
they arrive. This will require the visitors to identify their recreation
interests and then contact the recreation provider directly to ask about
accessibility, via telephone/TTY or e-mail.
When calling the recreation provider, the visitors should ask to
speak with the person responsible for the accessibility or inclusion
of the program or facility, and indicate that they, or their companion,
have a disability. The person responsible for the accessibility program
should know accessibility features of the facility and programs and
be eager to answer questions. The accessibility coordinator can also
work with the visitor and program staff to ensure any necessary program
modifications or accommodations occur before the visitor's arrival.
Often, it is not as simple as calling the facility or program and
asking the first person one speaks with "Is the swimming pool and
swim lesson program accessible?" because that person may not be knowledgeable
about accessibility. The person who answers the phone may respond,
"yes, it is accessible" to all questions regarding accessibility,
but they may not be trained to identify accessibility features according
to federal guidelines. The process of getting the right person on
the phone may take longer than anticipated, but it is well worth the
Questions to ask
Once contact is made with appropriate facility or program staff,
the next step is to ask questions specific to the individual's needs.
These questions should focus on elements the visitor feels will enable
participation and enjoyable use of the facility or program. While
people with similar impairments (physical, sensory, cognitive) may
have similar concerns and questions, this is not always the case.
The needs of each individual are unique and may require a different
level of access. To illustrate this point, consider an interpreter-led
nature walk. A person with a hearing impairment may ask if an assistive
listening system is available, while another may ask if the interpreter's
discussion points are available in text. A visitor who is deaf may
ask if a sign language interpreter is available. Additionally, a person
with a visual impairment may inquire if there are touchable elements
on the tour, while another may ask for audio description. These are
but a few elements that may be necessary for an individual to enjoy
this particular program.
Preparing a set of questions about recreational accessibility may
appear time-consuming and challenging to some. To jump-start the process,
the following is a short list of disability-specific questions from
which recreation-seekers can formulate more individualized questions.
Remember: these sample questions are not all-inclusive; each individual
will have specific needs and interests.
People with mobility impairments
|A fishing enthusiast enjoys an afternoon at the
Of concern to many people using mobility devices (such as wheelchairs,
walkers, canes, and crutches) and people with unsteady gaits is
the physical access to the facility and program. Elements that affect
physical accessibility include parking, routes to and through the
facility, entrances, bathrooms, seating, counter and table heights,
- Is accessible parking available? If so, how many spaces are
available and are any van accessible?
- Is the entrance to the facility accessible? What surface material
is used for the route to and through the site? Is it grass, pea
gravel, sand or wood chips? If so, this area may not be accessible
for people using mobility devices.
- Is a fee required to visit the site or participate in the program?
If so, is a personal assistant also required to pay the fee?
Site Amenities and Information:
- What are the amenities of the site? Are there accessible bathrooms,
drinking fountains, concessions? " Is a brochure available indicating
the accessible features of the site and program? " What is the
policy towards service animals? Is there a relief area for my
For people with sensory impairments
- What are the amenities of the site? Are there bathrooms, drinking
- Is program information provided in alternative formats?
- Have programs been modified to accommodate visitors with sensory
or cognitive impairments? Please describe what modifications have
- Does the site provide a public use TTY? Where is it located?
- What are the site policies for guide animals?
- Is Braille provided on informational and directional signage?
- Do you have accessible campsites? How many accessible campsites
- Is there a reservation system or is it available on a first-come
- Is the RV camping space a minimum of 20 feet wide for RV parking
and proper lift operation? " Is the tent camping on a tent pad
- Is clear space around the tent pad or platform wide enough to
accommodate a wheelchair?
- What accessible site amenities are available? (grills, fire
rings, picnic tables, comfort stations/bathrooms)
- Is there a 48 inch by 48 inch firm and stable surface immediately
adjacent to the grill?
- Is the height of the cooking surface between 15 inches and 34
inches so as to be reached by a person seated in a wheelchair?
- Are operable parts easily used without tight grasping, pinching,
or twisting of the wrist, and do they require less than five pounds
of force to operate?
- Is there a 48 inch by 48 inch firm and stable surface immediately
adjacent to the fire ring?
- Is the fire building surface nine inches or more above the
- Is there a raised edge around the fire ring; if so, is the
combined distance over the edge or curb down to the fire building
surface 24 inches or less?
|Two friends enjoy the accessible picnic area at
a local park.
- Are accessible picnic tables available in favorite picnicking
spots; both sun and shade, and with views comparable to inaccessible
- Are picnic tables provided at each campsite or only in common
- Are the picnic tables fixed to the ground or moveable?
- Are the accessible picnic tables located on a firm and stable
surface and accessible route?
- Is the wheelchair accessible seating space in the middle of
the table, on the end of the table or on the side?
- Do the accessible picnic tables have a wheelchair seating space
that is at least 27 inches high, 30 inches wide, and 19 inches
deep with a 9-inch high toe clearance at least 24 inches deep?
Comfort Stations and Pit Toilets:
- What type of restroom and bathing facilities are provided?
- Is there an accessible route from the accessible camping to
the accessible comfort station or pit toilet? What is the surface
material of this route? Does the route maintain a running slope
of 1:20 or less, or are there areas where it is steeper?
- Is there an accessible stall with a minimum depth of 56-59 inches
and width of 60 inches? Are grab bars provided?
- Does the pit toilet have a minimum clear space of 60 inches
by 60 inches with a maximum slope of 1:50 adjacent to the toilet?
" Is the surface firm and stable?
- Does the pit toilet have walls? If so, are grab bars provided?
- Is there an accessible room? Does it have the amenities you
- Does the bed frame create a solid box underneath the bed thereby
hindering the use of transfer lifts which must slide under the
- Are communications like fire alarms, alarm clocks and message
waiting indicators audible and visual, and usable by people with
hearing impairments or visual impairments?
- Are TTY's available?
- If you are deaf or hard of hearing, how will you know when someone
(say room service) is at your door?
- Is there a pool? If so, does the pool have a sloped entry or
- Is there an exercise room? If so, are there accessible routes
to the equipment? Can the equipment be used while seated in a
Museums and exhibits:
- Are exhibits in the museum visible to a person in a seated position?
- Are brochures, playbills/programs, exhibit text and interpretive
handouts available in Braille, large print, audio or computer
disk? How far in advance must these be requested?
- Is a sign anguage interpreter available? How much advance notice
- Are tactile maps, models and objects included in exhibits? Theater
and sport venues
- Does the site provide accessible seating areas?
- What is the nature of the accessible seating? Are there stadium
seats that can be folded away and removed to provide a wheelchair
seating space, or will a person with a disability need to transfer
from his wheelchair?
- If transfers are required, where will the wheelchair be stored?
Is the storage next to the patron or in a place that will require
an attendant to retrieve the device upon request?
- Is accessible seating available at all price levels? Are comparable
lines of sight provided in these price levels?
- How many companion seats are available per accessible seat?
Is the companion seating next to, in front of, or behind the accessible
- When are the accessible seats opened for purchase by people
without disabilities? (After the rest of the price level is sold
out, after the entire venue is sold out, 1 hour prior to the show,
- Is there a 36-inch wide area of the counter that is 36 inches
or less above the floor at the ticketing, merchandise, and other
- What is the venue's policy on service animals?
- Is an assistive listening device available? If so, what type?
- Is real-time captioning available for performances?
- Are sign language interpreters available for performances?
The questions provided in this article are by no means an all-inclusive
or mandatory list. These questions also do not ensure finding an accessible
recreation facility. In fact, many of the questions will not apply
to everyone and will not cover all potential aspects of accessibility
at the site. However, asking questions specific to your needs will
increase the likelihood of an enjoyable experience.
Remember the visitor
is the best person to decide if a recreation venue suits his/her specific
needs. Do not hesitate to ask questions which you feel are important.
While venues may advertise accessibility for people with disabilities,
a little time spent investigating the site may avoid unpleasant surprises
in the long run. Asking the recreation site staff pertinent questions
will increase your chances of having an accessible and successful
After your visit….
So you decided to spend a hot summer day
with family at the local swimming pool. You called the pool in advance
to find out if a swimming pool lift was available for your wife who
uses a wheelchair. The pool staff affirmed they did have a lift and
it was set up for use. However, after getting to the pool, you and
your wife discover the lift is not operational since it has not been
used very often or checked during routine maintenance inspections.
When you reported the problems with the lift to the pool staff during
your visit, the pool staff called for maintenance on the lift. In
a matter of 15-20 minutes, the lift was again operational and you
and your wife were able to enjoy the hot summer day in the pool.
|Lifeguards at the local pool check the operation of the pool lift.
It is especially important for people with disabilities to
give continuous feedback to event staff, program coordinators and
facility managers on the effectiveness of accessibility features within
specific programs, services and facilities. Operational dollars have
been designated to make accessibility improvements. However, if the
accessibility improvements are not functional or effective, they have
not served their purpose of creating an equal opportunity to participate
in and benefit from the program or activity for people with disabilities.
Thus, continuous feedback from consumers with disabilities can help
park and recreation professionals to improve their facilities and
services to best meet the needs of all of their visitors and participants.
Let the park staff know when an accessible element is not working
or effective and let them know how they can improve it for future
visitors. Further recognize that one of the most commonly heard complaints
from park and recreation professionals is that they have spent money
to make accessibility improvements, but still the park, facility,
program or accessible element goes unused by people with disabilities.
When you have an enjoyable experience at a park, recreation program
or facility, also be sure to let the staff know that as well. The
program staff and facility managers especially want to know that they
are serving their customers well. They will appreciate your compliment
and most likely continue to work diligently to provide programs and
facilities that are accessible and usable to visitors of all abilities.
About this Monograph
These materials were developed by the National
Center on Accessibility for the National Center on Physical Activity
and Disability under sponsorship of the Centers for Disease Control
About the Authors
Susan Ostby is an Accessibility
Specialist for the National Center on Accessibility. Jennifer K. Skulski
is Director of Marketing and Special Projects for the National Center