Everyday Advocacy: Parks Accessibility

Michael CollinsQ. I am having access problems with a county park and need some advice on how to force them into ADA compliance. We have a huge multi-use park nearby that features everything from playing fields for organized sports to children’s playgrounds. Unfortunately this beautiful facility is not easy for a wheelchair user to visit, and I have been frustrated in trying to watch youth soccer or to find marked parking that is actually accessible.

Many of the parking lots are gravel instead of paved, so it’s difficult to get unloaded and wheel across the lot. To make it worse, they place portable toilets in the access aisles of what they consider to be accessible parking, but those parking spaces are only marked by signs and nothing is painted on the ground. Many other spaces are marked on the pavement, but empty signposts don’t provide proper signage necessary to ticket scofflaws who park there illegally. Some of the parking lots have no accessible parking, and there are dangerous elevation changes for wheelers.


I sent a message to the park superintendent providing detailed descriptions and recommendations for how the existing problems could be corrected. When I didn’t receive an answer after several weeks, I contacted the county administrative offices and was pleased to receive a message from the director of parks advising me that they would have their ADA coordinator respond to me and would immediately begin work on making the necessary changes. But no one responded and, several months later, most of the work needed to create access has not occurred. Where should I turn next?

— Frustrated by empty promises

A. Sounds like you took the proper initial steps and have demonstrated great patience in dealing with the county bureaucracy. However, it is time to step up the pressure by enlisting the aid of organizations that can confirm the necessity of making the improvements you recommended. They can also initiate actions that will penalize the county if they do not take steps to bring the park into compliance with the law.

County, state and local government entities are covered by Title II of the ADA. This is extremely important, since their facilities and activities impact so many people. There are accessibility guidelines available for virtually any feature to be found in a park, including parking, signage, walkways, playgrounds, parks programs and fishing piers. The U.S. Access Board recently developed guidelines for outdoor recreation that cover features like trails, so managers of even the more remote parks with fewer developed features now have the guidance needed to make their properties more accessible.

The first step you took, detailing the problems and recommending potential corrections, was a good one. Be sure you keep a written record of that correspondence, in case it is needed to help expedite the changes. It would probably be a good idea to visit the park again, to see what, if any, work has been done to correct the problems you pointed out. That visit might also reveal similar issues impacting accessibility in other parts of the facility, which could be added to your list for the time when you have additional contact with the county government.

If the corrections have not been made, it may be time to have legal representation on your side. That can be a private attorney to file a lawsuit, but there are also free options available. Nonprofit disability law projects serve most states, and they are an excellent source of information and representation if you need it. To find the nearest such project, check with the ADA Technical Assistance Center that serves your region of the country. The toll-free number works when calling from any state or territory (see resources below).

The staff of the disability law project may know of similar complaints or past enforcement actions involving the county, in other areas as well as your local park. They may also agree to represent your interests if, due to the lack of compliance, it is necessary to file a formal complaint with the Department of Justice, the Department of Interior, a state agency, or if you decide to file that private lawsuit.

Resources
• The ADA Disability Law Handbook, adata.org/publication/disability-law-handbook
• National Network of ADA Technical Assistance Centers, 800/949-4232

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