Parks and trails provide numerous benefits to the public, including opportunities for physical activity, social interaction, and relaxation. However, not all individuals have equal access to these spaces. People with disabilities often face physical, social, and attitudinal barriers limiting their participation and enjoyment of parks and trails. To promote inclusion and ensure that public spaces are accessible to all, it is essential to take proactive steps to improve the physical accessibility of these spaces.
In this article, we will explore things that make parks and trails more accessible to persons with disabilities so they can fully engage with their communities and enjoy the benefits of outdoor recreation. These improvements are required under the ADA and may also have additional requirements or variances under local accessibility codes.
#1. Install ramps
Ramps can provide accessible pathways to areas that would otherwise be difficult or impossible for individuals using mobility devices such as wheelchairs or walkers.
When installing ramps, it is vital to ensure that the slope, width, and surface materials meet accessibility standards. Per the ADA, the ramp slope should be no more than 1:12, which means that for every inch of rise, there should be at least 12 inches of horizontal run. The ramp should also be wide enough to accommodate the mobility device – no less than 36 inches. The surface materials of the ramp should be slip-resistant and stable to provide a safe and sturdy surface for individuals to traverse.
Providing enough space for people to maneuver their mobility devices at the top and bottom of the ramp is also critical. Adding handrails to the ramp can provide additional support and stability for individuals with mobility impairments. Handrails are required on both sides of ramps with a rise greater than 6 inches.
#2. Provide accessible parking
Accessible parking spaces provide sufficient space and a smooth surface near the park entrance, making it easier for people with disabilities to get in and out of their vehicles. The ADA specifies the acceptable width, depth, slope, and location for accessible parking spaces.
These parking spaces must be clearly marked with the international symbol of access, painted with bright colors, and located close to the park entrance. The spaces require an adjacent access aisle at least 60 inches wide to transfer from the vehicle to the aisleway safely. The access aisle must be level, smooth, and free from obstructions. No curbs or other barriers can block the path from the parking space to the park entrance.
#3. Improve trails and paths
Accessible trails and paths are designed to accommodate mobility devices, with ample width, even surfaces, and gentle slopes that make enjoying them possible for individuals with disabilities.
The trail surface should be firm, stable, and slip-resistant, with a maximum slope of 1:20. The trail width should be at least 36 inches to accommodate mobility devices, with passing spaces at regular intervals. These passing spaces should be at least 60 inches wide and located every 1,000 feet or less.
The trailhead and other key points should have accessible signage with Braille, large print, or raised letters to provide information about the trail and its features. Additionally, it is important to include rest areas and benches along the route for individuals to take breaks and enjoy the scenery.
#4. Install handrails
Handrails provide support and stability for individuals with disabilities who may have difficulty walking or maintaining their balance. Handrails should be installed along ramps, stairs, and other areas where there may be a change in elevation or uneven terrain. Handrails should also be located at a consistent height and have a diameter that is easy to grasp. Handrails are required on both sides of ramps with a rise greater than 6 inches.
Handrails should be securely anchored to the ground or to a sturdy support structure to ensure that they can withstand the weight and pressure of individuals with disabilities who may rely on them for support.
#5. Provide tactile signage
Tactile signage, also known as ADA signage, provides information about park features, directions, and safety information through touch, allowing individuals with visual impairments to navigate parks and trails more easily.
Tactile signage should be placed at a consistent height with a clear approach. The signage should incorporate clear, easy-to-read lettering, high-contrast colors, and raised letters and symbols.
The ADA specifies that this type of signage must be furnished in buildings that are open to the public. Permanent rooms and spaces must feature ADA signage, including restrooms, kitchens, conference rooms, and other commonly used areas. The mounting height of a sign, and the clear floor space in front of it, must meet the requirements of the ADA.
#6. Create accessible restrooms
Accessible restrooms are equipped with features that make them easier for individuals with disabilities to use. Accessible restrooms should be conveniently located, with level and smooth pathways leading to them. The restroom entrance must be at least 32 inches wide, and the door handles and latches must be easy to operate with one hand without pinching, twisting, or tightly grasping. The restroom should also have clear floor space in accordance with the ADA to allow for maneuverability.
Inside the restroom, provide grab bars and other features that make it easier for individuals with disabilities to use the facilities. Install Grab bars at toilet and bathing fixtures per ADA guidelines; those fixtures must be of an accessible height and incorporate accessible operable parts. The sink must be at a height that allows wheelchair users to reach the faucet and soap dispenser easily, with complaint knee and toe clearance.
Accessible restrooms should also have sufficient lighting, clear signage, and non-slip flooring to ensure that individuals with disabilities can use them safely and comfortably.
#7. Offer accessible seating
Accessible seating allows park visitors with disabilities to rest, relax, and enjoy the outdoors. Accessible seating areas should be conveniently located and have level and smooth pathways for approach. The seating area should be level, with sufficient clear floor space for maneuverability per ADA guidelines. The seating should feature armrests and backrests to provide support.
Locate accessible seating near other accessible amenities, such as accessible trails, restrooms, and parking spaces. Provide shade for relief from the sun and heat wherever possible.
#8. Provide accessible picnic tables
Accessible picnic tables provide a place for individuals with disabilities to rest, eat, and socialize with others in a natural setting. Accessible picnic tables should be located in convenient areas and must have level and smooth pathways leading to them. Install picnic tables on firm, stable, and level surfaces, with adjacent clear space following ADA guidelines to allow for maneuverability.
Picnic tables have specific dimensional requirements to ensure accessibility. Tabletop height must be between 28-34 inches, with clear knee space of at least 27 inches high, 30 inches wide, and 19 inches deep, typically in an end-accessible configuration (provided at one or both short ends of the tabletop). Seating height should be between 17-19 inches.
#9 Create accessible playgrounds
Accessible playground equipment allows children with disabilities to participate in physical activities, play, and socialize with their peers. Accessible playground equipment should be located in convenient and accessible locations, with level and smooth pathways leading to it. The equipment should allow various play activities, including structures and sensory play elements that engage children with different types of disabilities.
Accessible playground equipment must be designed with safety in mind. Locate the equipment on soft, shock-absorbing surfaces to prevent injuries. Incorporate clear floor spaces, transfer stations, and handrails to provide accessibility for children with mobility impairments.
Making parks and trails more accessible to persons with disabilities is both a moral and legal obligation. By implementing the suggestions outlined in this article, we can create more inclusive public spaces that promote physical and mental well-being for all individuals.
Accessible parks and trails provide opportunities for outdoor recreation and foster a sense of community and social inclusion for individuals with disabilities. We must continue to work towards creating a more equitable society where all individuals can access public facilities and participate in community life without barriers. Together, we can create a more accessible and inclusive world for everyone.