ADA Anniversary: Focus on Accessible Outdoor Recreation

Jennifer Lin Perry May 26, 2020

Summer is upon us and this is the time of year that many people find themselves wanting to get outside and participate in outdoor recreation activities. People with disabilities, and their family and friends, want to do the same. As we celebrate the 29th anniversary of the ADA this month, we will provide a webinar on July 31st to highlight some of the technical assistance inquiries about accessible outdoor recreation that we receive at the Northeast ADA Center. It’s important to remember that the ADA is a comprehensive, broad-reaching civil rights law that applies to many aspects of community life, including recreation. There are quite a few hallmarks of the ADA that, even those unfamiliar with the law, likely recognize - such as accessible parking spaces and curb cuts. While features like these are critical components of access for many people with disabilities, 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.

When the U.S. 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…”

Accessible recreation isn’t just something “nice to do” for people with disabilities, as there are enforceable ADA requirements relative to recreation. In fact, the U.S. 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, which 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.

The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design contain scoping and technical requirements for a number 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

Most stakeholders who contact the Northeast ADA Center understand that newly constructed and altered recreational facilities must address accessibility. The area of concern for many of our callers is how to address the accessibility of recreational facilities that were built prior to the effective date of the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design (March 15, 2012). During the Northeast ADA’s July 31st outdoor recreation webinar, we will address this question by examining several recreation scenarios. We will also discuss how owners/operators of public beaches can take steps to improve access for visitors with disabilities. 

Should you have ADA related questions, please contact the Northeast ADA Center at 1.800.949.4232 or email us at for confidential technical assistance related to ADA implementation.