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New Accessibility Options in Outdoor Recreation

February 6, 2023
New Accessibility Options in Outdoor Recreation

Everybody should have the opportunity to enjoy outdoor spaces, but historically, outdoor spaces haven’t always been open and accessible to all. With an increase in awareness, understanding, and means, it’s now more possible than ever to provide accessibility options in outdoor recreation. Buildings, trails, recreation sites, and other facilities can now be easily altered to accommodate people with disabilities and provide easier access and ease of use for everyone. Around 54 million people in the U.S.—or 1 in every 5 people—self-identifies as having a disability that significantly limits their ability to walk, see, hear, breathe, or think. And by the year 2030, around 80 million people in the U.S. will be age 65 or older. In order to evolve, adapt, and change for the better, the outdoor recreation industry needs to become more accessible for everyone.

Using the Right Terminology

The language used when talking to or about persons with disabilities may change based on the personal preference of the individual(s) in question. People with disabilities refer to themselves in many different ways, and the language has adapted and evolved over the decades. A disability is defined as a medical condition that presents a limitation in a person’s major daily activities like walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, and thinking. We now use person-first terminology to center the person rather than their disability—for example, saying “a person who is blind” or “a person who uses a wheelchair.” The word handicap is used to describe a barrier or circumstance that negatively affects the progress of a person with a disability. This may be a flight of stairs, an unpaved pathway, or a doorway that isn’t wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair. Any site that is described as “accessible” must be in compliance with all local, state, and federal accessibility guidelines and standards. A site, facility, or program can either be accessible or inaccessible—there is no middle ground or “semi-accessible” or “partially accessible” designation.

Communicating Accessibility Information 

When communicating accessibility information, being precise and adhering to standards is a must. Using phrases or descriptors that are not commonly understood or that are not legally defined does not convey accurate information or make it clear whether a space is accessible for all. Any outdoor recreation industry business owner, facilitator, guide, or operator must provide nonjudgmental information about the programs, facilities, buildings, activities, and areas so that visitors can determine what meets their interests, needs, and accessibility requirements. The primary goal should be to provide each visitor with the information and education they need to make an informed decision about their own comfort while maintaining their independence and dignity. Communication about accessibility should be consistent across all mediums, including signage, websites, brochures, and any other public information sources. The term “accessible” should only be used if all facilities, constructed features, and connecting routes are in full legal compliance with accessibility guidelines. You should not use terms like “ADA-compliant,” “partially accessible,” “barrier-free,” or “handicapped.” Provide specific details about what visitors will encounter, like the width, slope, and condition of the surfaces, and don’t make assumptions about what a person can and can’t do. Use appropriate symbols that are easy to understand and universal to all areas. 

Maintaining Legal Compliance 

When amending, communicating about, or advertising accessible spaces, you must comply with certain legal requirements. The Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) has been a law since 1968, and mandates that all facilities that are designed, built, altered, bought, rented, or leased by, for, or on behalf of a federal agency must be accessible to all. The Americans with Disabilities Act has been a law since 1990, and mandates that state and local government services, public accommodations, and organizations open to the public comply with accessibility requirements. Agencies are not legally required to change the character of wilderness areas in order to provide accessibility.

Adopting Universal Design 

Using the principles of universal design makes it easier for agencies and businesses to comply with accessibility requirements. The key tenet of universal design is creating programs and facilities that are usable by all people to the greatest extent possible, without segregating access for people with disabilities.

Making Programming More Accessible 

Outdoor industry business owners can improve their programming accessibility in order to allow people of all abilities and ages to participate. Programming includes activities like camping, viewing scenery, swimming, enjoying solitude in the wilderness, visiting a visitor’s center or rest area, and accessing information on a trail. If any programming is located indoors, the building or facility must be accessible to all. If any programming isn’t accessible to all, that information must be conveyed clearly and consistently. You cannot use terms like “reasonable accommodation,” “semi-accessible,” or “accessible with assistance.”

Collecting Data and Surveys 

One of the easiest and most effective ways you can measure the effectiveness of your accessibility programs, and the need for further future advancements, is by collecting data and surveys. An accessibility evaluation survey is a strategic, planned, and comprehensive review of structures and programs to see if they meet accessibility standards. The results are then recorded with specific information about their compliance and deficiencies. Gathering, retaining, updating, and analyzing this data will help you continue to evolve your facilities and programming to meet changing needs.

Adaptive Outdoor Partnerships 

Creating and maintaining adaptive outdoor partnerships can help you stay on top of the evolving needs of people with disabilities. If you’re having trouble understanding how to make your site and programming accessible, or if you want to learn more about the value and importance of accessibility in the outdoor industry, you might consider partnering with an adaptive expert. For instance, the National Ability Center works directly with companies to help them make large and small adaptations to ensure their programming and sites are accessible to all. These adaptive partnerships can be used to expand accessibility such as through adaptive trail building, training, and education.

Inclusion Policies 

Every business, facility, and program in the outdoor recreation industry should have an inclusion policy that is understood and adhered to by all staff. Millions of people with disabilities visit outdoor sites each year, but only a small percentage of these sites have inclusion policies. An inclusion policy not only benefits the visitors, but also the company and its staff. A clearly defined, formal policy sets out guidelines and goals and ensures that you stick to them.

Stay Up to Date with Accessibility Options in Outdoor Recreation 

If you’re interested in staying up to date about accessibility options in the outdoor recreation industry, then keep reading our blog at Advanced Outdoor Solutions. At Advanced Outdoor Solutions, we research, analyze, and present the latest trends and data in outdoor activities so that you can stay up to date on the latest trends and data that impact your business. 

We also offer those in the industry land planning, design, development, and turnkey third-party management solutions throughout Delaware, DC, and SW Florida. To learn more about these services, contact us today at 1-800-579-9796 or contact us online.