Rachel J. C. Chen, Ph.D.
Recreation and Tourism Management
Dept. of Consumer and Industry Services Management
247 Jessie Harris Building
University of Tennessee
Knoxville, TN 37996-1900
Phone: (865) 974-0505; Fax: (865) 974-523
Prepared for the National Center on Accessibility.
Note from the National Center on Accessibility:
This executive summary provides examples of the major findings
of this research. Contact the National Center on Accessibility
(firstname.lastname@example.org) to order a copy of the full
Report. The cost of the report is $15.
Several studies have been written about the trip
characteristics of state/national park users. However, very little
has been done about the behaviors, perceptions, motivations, and
expectations of park visitors with disabilities. During spring
(2001), the National Center on Accessibility/National Park Service
sponsored a study of national park visitors with disabilities.
The purpose of the study was to identify the perceptions of people
with disabilities relative to program and physical accessibility
in the National Park Service. This study interviewed a minimum
total of 50 visitors with disabilities (a minimum of 10 at each
park included in the study). The research met the following objectives:
- Collect data on park physical and programmatic accessibility;
perceptions on accessibility and barriers to participation
by visitors with disabilities,
- Generate suggestions and recommendations that visitors
with disabilities may have that would make a visit to the
national park enjoyable,
- Compile trip-related data (e.g., sources of information
used, nights away from home, and the benefits associated with
a visit, etc.) from opinions of visitors with disabilities,
- Provide information for better understanding, planning,
development, and maintenance in outdoor developed areas based
on the needs of visitors with disabilities.
Data was collected in the surrounding communities
of the selected five national park units including the Great Smoky
Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Shenandoah
National Park, the Mammoth Cave National Park, and the Hot Spring
National Park. All participants in this study were 1) adults (age
18 and older) who use mobility devices (manual chair, power chair,
cane, walker, scooter, crutches), personal assistants, service
animals, communication devices (TTY), or hearing aids, 2) parents/caregiver
of individuals with developmental disabilities, and 3) parents/caregivers
of kids with disabilities.
Data was gathered from national park unit visitors
during the summer to the fall of 2001. Visitors with disabilities
were stopped and asked to participate in the study by providing
their names/addresses and the participants were then given a self-administered
diary questionnaire and asked to fill out the survey on-site if
they had have finished their park visit or mail it back in a postage-paid
envelope at the end of their trips. A second copy of the questionnaire
with postage-paid envelope was sent to those who had not responded
within two weeks after the initial intercept.
In order to have diverse survey participants with
many different disabilities represented (mobility, sight, hearing),
our trained interviewers also worked with some local disability
resource centers to recruit subjects for the study. Working with
local disability services related organizations was expected to
be an efficient way to manage resources and our interviewers'
time. However, some disability services related agencies were
reluctant to participate in this study due to confidentiality
and various constraints within agencies. Of all 94 participants,
our interviewers recruited most (85) of them on-site and 9 were
recruited by the disability services related organizations.
Usable surveys were coded and entered into a computer.
Cross-tabulations and frequency distributions were calculated
using a Statistical Analysis System (SAS) software package. Participants'
comments from the open-ended responses were summarized. The results
of this project provide useful information for park managers relative
the access in their park.
Characteristics of Visitors with Disabilities
One objective of this study was to determine the
characteristics, or demographic profiles, of the visitors with
disabilities to the selected five national park units. This includes
types of disabilities, age, gender, and the uses of various devices
and assistances (e.g., wheelchair, walker, personal assistant,
scooter, TTY, and service animals, etc.).
Types of Disabilities
Overall, four groups were sought for the national
park units based on the categories of disabilities of individuals
visiting each park: 1) people with physical disabilities, [e.g.,
individuals who use mobility devices (wheelchairs, scooters,
walkers, canes, crutches)]; 2) people with hearing impairments
(e.g., individuals who use the hearing aids); 3) people with
visual impairments; and 4) people with developmental disabilities.
Some result examples are listed as:
- People with disabilities visiting the Mammoth Cave National
Park ranged between the ages of 8 and 83 with a mean age
of 39 for all participants (53% were females, and 47% were
males); with a mean age of 50 for the visitors (age 18 and
above) with physical disabilities; with a mean age of 11
for the visitors (age under 18) with physical disabilities;
with a mean age of 83 for the visitors with hearing impairments;
and with a mean age of 10 for the people with developmental
- People with disabilities visiting the Shenandoah National
Park ranged between the ages of 29 and 90 with a mean age
of 52 for all participants (47% were females, and 53% were
males); with a mean age of 55 for the visitors with physical
disabilities; with a mean age of 52 for the visitors with
visual impairments; and with a mean age of 15 for the people
with developmental disabilities.
Types of Assistances and Devices
- Overall, the three most common assistances/devices used
by park visitors with disabilities were manual wheelchairs
(26%), canes (25%), and power wheelchairs (25%). The park
visitors with disabilities also used personal assistants (22%),
walkers (22%), hearing aids (10%), crutches (8%), scooters
(9%), communication devices (4%), and service animals (3%).
Visitor Expectations/Perceptions of Program and Physical Accessibility
in the Park
Knowing the perceptions of visitors with disabilities
regarding the program and physical accessibility in the park will
assist in the process of providing a good foundation for future
development and planning decisions.
Example: Visitors' Opinions of the Shenandoah
National Park and its Physical Accessibility
- Participants were asked to rate their perceptions and experiences
of the Shenandoah National Park's accessibility during their
national park trips. The results given are based on a 7 point
scale, where 1 = not a problem, 4 = neutral, and 7 = major
General Accessibility Elements
- Lack of knowledgeable and/or helpful park staff regarding
accessibility in the Shenandoah National Park (3.93), and
lack of accurate information on accessibility in the park
(4.8) were rated by all participants.
Physical Accessibility Elements
- The physical accessibility problems in the Shenandoah National
Park to visitors with physical disabilities were lack of the
width of doorway in restrooms (5.71), and followed by lack
of grab bars in restrooms (5.23), lack of accessible trails
(5.13), lack of appropriate urinal height in restrooms (5),
lack of accessible restrooms (5.1), lack of accessible drinking
water (4.73), narrow tread width of outdoor recreation access
routes (4.54), lack of accessible overlooks and viewings areas
(4.4), lack of accessible parking spaces (4.33), lack of accessible
storage facilities (4.14), lack of curb cuts (4.13), lack
of accessible camping facilities (4.06), lack of accessible
utilities (3.93), lack of accessible route to the trash/recycling
containers (3.6), and lack of accessible route to the visitor
More Specific Physical Accessibility Element
- Visitors with physical disabilities were also asked to
rate particular accessible facilities (including the picnic
tables, grills, and fire rings) they were using during the
Park visits. The accessibility guidelines for the above three
facilities are: 1) the height of the elements; 2) seating
space provided; 3) knee space; 4) clear space surrounding
the element; 5) the ground surface; and 6) the ground slope.
· In the case of the Blue Ridge Parkway, some of individuals
with physical disabilities rated there was a problem for the
height of the picnic table (2.56), lack of smooth surfaces
around the picnic table (4.11), lack of firm and stable seating
space (4.11), lack of appropriate ground slope around the
picnic table (4), lack of appropriate ground surfaces around
the table (3.89), lack of accessible route to the table (3.78),
and lack of clear space for knees (3).
Overall Satisfaction Regarding Accessibility
- The mean overall satisfaction to the accessibility in the
Great Smoky Mountains National Park was 4.5 (on a 1 to 7 scale,
where 1 = very dissatisfied, 4 = neutral, and 7 = very satisfied)
rated by all respondents, 4.67 rated by visitors with physical
disabilities, 4.67 rated by visitors with hearing impairments,
and 2.5 rated by parents/caregivers of persons with developmental
- The mean overall satisfaction to the accessibility in the
Hot Spring National Park was 4.83 (on a 1 to 7 scale) rated
by all respondents, 4.83 rated by visitors with physical disabilities,
5.67 rated by visitors with hearing impairments, 4 rated by
person with visual impairments, and 5 rated by parents/caregivers
of persons with developmental disabilities.
- Several questions were open-ended and asked the participants
to identify what they liked and disliked about the park regarding
accessibility in the park. Some general opinions of what participants
liked about the park units were a) nice park staff, b) useful
information, and c) accessible overlooks. The general themes
of what participants did not like about the park units were
a) non-accessible restrooms, b) uneven grounds, and c) non-accessible
- The participants were also asked to identify how the park
could be improved on accessibility. Some general suggestions
included a) more funding budgets needed, b) more accessible
parking spaces, c) more accessible bathrooms, d) more accessible
trails, and e) the needs of hiring individuals with disabilities
as consultants of Park management teams.
Travel Behaviors of Visitors with Disabilities
Trip characteristics such as planning time, traveling
distance, and lodging can provide a good foundation for future
marketing and promotional decisions. The section provides demographic
profiles of respondents (including visitors with disabilities,
caregivers/parents of visitors with developmental disabilities).