About Recreation Accessibility

SUMMARY: The ADA applies to recreational facilities, and this article explains not only why this is the case, but also why it matters. The article also helps you begin to understand the regulations for swimming pools, beaches, golf courses, amusement rides, and more.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a comprehensive, broad-reaching civil rights law that applies to many aspects of community life, including recreation. While most people understand that the ADA applies to the built environment and things like accessible parking and curb cuts, not everyone recognizes that true community inclusion is about much more than those features, and providing recreational opportunities for all, really, is the true embodiment of the ADA. In fact, the ADA’s general non-discrimination provisions extend beyond “buildings” to recreation as well, in all its forms.

Accessible Recreation Is a Civil Right

Accessible recreation isn’t just something “nice to do” for people with disabilities, as there are enforceable ADA requirements relative to recreation. For example, for outdoor recreation, the ADA creates obligations to provide equal access to areas such as walking trails and playgrounds. For other areas, such as gyms and amusement parks, there are obligations under the ADA related to accessibility. These recreational considerations apply to both public entities and public accommodations.

When the US Access Board released the design standards that apply to recreational facilities, the regulatory assessment noted that “The primary benefit (of these standards) is the fulfillment of civil rights realized by individuals with disabilities. There are 52.5 million Americans with disabilities. Almost one in five adults has some type of disability. Among individuals 15 years old and over, 25 million have difficulty walking or using stairs. The final guidelines will result in newly constructed and altered recreation facilities that are accessible to individuals with disabilities and will enable them to participate in a wide range of recreational opportunities…”

Project Civic Access

In addition, the US Department of Justice (DOJ), as part of their enforcement activities, has consistently addressed the accessibility of recreation facilities in their settlement agreements under Project Civic Access. Project Civic Access is DOJ’s wide-ranging effort to ensure that counties, cities, towns, and villages comply with the ADA by eliminating physical and communication barriers that prevent people with disabilities from participating fully in community life.

Requirements and Best Practices

The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design contain requirements for several types of recreational facilities, including:

  • Amusement rides
  • Recreational boating facilities
  • Exercise machines
  • Fishing piers and platforms
  • Golf facilities
  • Miniature golf facilities
  • Play areas
  • Saunas and steam rooms
  • Swimming pools, wading pools, and spas
  • Shooting facilities with firing positions

In addition to the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, the Outdoor Developed Areas Final Rule part of the Architectural Barriers Act includes “best practices” that can be applied to areas such as accessible trails, picnic and camping areas, viewing areas, and beach access routes, when they are being constructed or altered. These requirements are mandatory for outdoor areas on federal land, but are very much a best practice guide that can be used to meet ADA obligations as well in these unique outdoor recreation areas.


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