A graphic with green lettering that says NCA Webcast Archive
A banner collage with pictures of a woman in a beach chair, children playing, a girl in a wheelchair at a 
campfire ring, a man in a wheelchair and a friend walking through the woods, a boy in a wheelchair playing golf, 
a man in a spacesuit, a man using a transfer system to get into a swimming pool, and people standing around a park 
ranger.  The image has the caption:  Discover, Inform, Engage, Innovate on it.

Visitor Expectations and Perceptions of Program and
Physical Accessibility in the National Park Service

Presented by: Dr. Rachel Chen

View streaming video for this presentation


  • Purpose of the Study
  • Method
    - 5 selected national parks
    - Survey Questions
  • Result Examples
  • Suggestions


  • Identify the perceptions of people with disabilities relative to program and physical accessibility in national parks
  • Survey individuals with disabilities on their input - "what makes an enjoyable park experience"
  • Provide information for park managers relative the access in their park
  • Decision-makers and managers of various national park units serve visitors with disabilities better and plan for future development


  • Develop the survey instrument
  • On-site interviews
    - A comprehensive questionnaire with a postage-paid envelope
    - A second copy of the questionnaire with postage-paid envelope and a reminder postcard
  • Work with local disability resource centers to recruit subjects for the study

Survey Questions

  • the nature of the disability
  • participants’ attitudes toward accessibility in the major park attractions
  • participants’ opinions about the quality of the national park units, and questions about the participants’ perceptions of program accessibility in national parks
  • their travel plans for the national park unit visit


  • Adults (age 18 and older) who use
    - mobility devices, personal assistants, service animals, communication devices (TTY), or hearing aids
  • Parents/caregiver of an individual with developmental disabilities
  • Parents/caregivers of kids with disabilities
  • Five National Park Units
    - The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
    - The Blue Ridge Parkway
    - The Shenandoah National Park
    - The Mammoth Cave National Park
    - The Hot Springs National Park


  • Data Collection: during the summer to the fall of 2001
  • Cross-tabulations and frequency distributions
  • Participants’ comments from the open-ended responses

Types of Assistances and Devices

  • The three most common devices used
    - manual wheelchairs (26%)
    - canes (25%)
    - power wheelchairs (25%)
  • Others
    - personal assistants (22%)
    - walkers (22%)
    - hearing aids (10%)
    - crutches (8%)
    - scooters (9%)
    - communication devices (4%)
    - service animals (3%)

Example: Overall Satisfaction Regarding Accessibility in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

  • The mean overall satisfaction to the accessibility in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was (on a 1 to 7 scale, where 1 = very dissatisfied, 4 = neutral, and 7 = very satisfied)
    - 4.5 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 disabilities.

Example: Visitors’ Opinions of the Shenandoah National Park and its Physical Accessibility

  • General Accessibility Elements
    - Lack of knowledgeable and/or helpful park staff regarding accessibility in the Park (3.93), and
    - Lack of accurate information on accessibility in the park (4.8) were rated by all participants
  • Physical Accessibility Elements
    - lack of the width of doorway in restrooms (5.71)
    - 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)

More Specific Physical Accessibility Element Examples

  • In the case of the Blue Ridge Parkway, individuals with physical disabilities rated there was a problem for
    - 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)

Travel Behaviors of Visitors with Disabilities

  • Planning Time: Example - the Mammoth Cave National Park
    - Fifty-three of the Mammoth Cave National Park respondents made their trip decision to visit the park on the day of the trip.
    - Twenty six percent of respondents made their trip decision to visit the park less than 1 week in advance.
  • Activity Engagement: Example – the Hot Spring National Park
    - visiting a scenic area (50%)
    - visiting a historical site (39%)
    - camping (33%)
    - fishing (28%)
    - visiting a museum (28%), and hiking (22%)


  • More information collected from this study
    - What design problems exist with these elements?
    - What would have to change about the program and physical accessibility to make the park more accessible and enjoyable?
  • Demographic Information: age, gender, income, occupation, and education level…
  • Where, how, and with whom


  • The implication of the pilot test
  • The importance of further investigation
  • The on-going project

Back to the Top

National Center on Accessibility Logo, click to go to the NCA homepage. This link goes off site.      The National Center on Physical Activity and Disability Logo, click to go to the NCPAD homepage. This link goes off site.