Planning for Inclusion

Implementing an Accessibility Management Program in a Parks and Recreation Business Model

January 13, 2009

Jennifer Skulski
National Center on Accessibility, Indiana University-Bloomington


Headlines—Any Town U.S.A. Department of Environmental Conservation settles in access for the disabled lawsuit (July 10, 2001). Department of Parks and Recreation, agrees to purchase golf mobility devices to allow golfers with disabilities to play its courses (December 3, 2002). Justice Department signs agreement with nine communities to ensure civic access for people with disabilities (February 27, 2004). Disabled to get more park access: State settles landmark suit (July 13, 2005). Associate Director provides testimony to U.S. House subcommittee on disability access to national parks (May 11, 2006).  GGNRA and plaintiffs reach a stay in litigation concerning accessibility (December 17, 2008).

These are some of the major headlines of the last nine years most notable to park and recreation professionals with responsibilities for accessibility compliance. While major federal disability rights legislation has mandated disabled access for more than 30 years, people with disabilities are still experiencing significant physical and programmatic barriers at recreation facilities and parks, denied the equal opportunity to participate and benefit comparative to people without disabilities. Most public park and recreation agencies want to comply with the law, unfortunately though, there is a lack of understanding as to how to incorporate the federal requirements into the daily operation of the organization. For the public parks and recreation agency, a comprehensive accessibility management program which values citizens with disabilities while advancing its mission of leisure for healthy lifestyles is essential to creating diverse and integrated communities where people with disabilities are fully included in all aspects of community life. For any accessibility management program to be successful, the organization must embrace some of the core principles and practices that management theorists have identified and linked to the most effective companies and public agencies of the 20th and 21st centuries: committed business purpose and mission, shared values, involvement in the process, comprehensive planning, continuous evaluation, and flexibility to adapt to an ever changing marketplace.

The Problem

Milestones such as the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act as amended in 1978, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 have raised expectations across two or three generations of consumers with disabilities seeking opportunities to improve healthy living through leisure pursuits. New generations of people with disabilities are holistically experiencing the impacts of the federal mandates at the community level. Today, there are higher expectations for access to public services (i.e. park and recreation programs, services, activities and facilities). To the contrary, when public services are inaccessible and fail to meet citizen expectations, the results have led to increased visibility of complaints and litigation where park visitors and program participants have encountered physical and programmatic barriers associated with allegations of discrimination based on disability.

Disability watchdog groups are sending a clear message in the new millennium–comply with federal disability rights legislation or risk being sued. Fred Shotz is a disability advocate, wheelchair users, and, some would call a “professional” plaintiff in ADA-related litigation spawning dozens of lawsuits. Shotz argues that businesses will not spend money to make accessibility improvements unless they are forced to do so. Shotz (2004) contends “By suing we are in the driver’s seat. We can be nice and cooperative if the defendant is cooperative. We can litigate the defendant into a corner if the defendant is uncooperative. What the litigation costs is up to the defendant, and is determined by how much the defendant wants to cooperate or how much the defendant wants to fight.”

For the majority of park and recreation professionals, inclusion of people with disabilities is viewed as more than a federal mandate. Instead, inclusion of all citizens–of all backgrounds, of all abilities, is considered a founding principle for building healthy communities. The National Recreation and Park Association issued an inclusion policy statement in 1999 “to encourage all providers of park, recreation, and leisure services to provide opportunities in settings where people of all abilities can recreate and interact together” (NRPA, 1999).

The U.S. Census Bureau (2002-2006) estimates the number of people with disabilities around 52 million. One in five Americans has some sort of physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. For park and recreation managers and administrators, it is critical that they understand the characteristics, needs and legislative mandates necessary to successfully include and accommodate 20 percent of their park visitors and program participants, not to mention their family members and friends, many of whom they participate with in recreation activities. Many park and recreation agencies have made incredible strides over the last decade to remove barriers and create greater access for people with disabilities. NRPA once recognized these accomplishments annually with the presentation of the Gold Medal Award in Special Recreation, the equivalent of an “Oscar” for parks and recreation. State and local disability advocacy organizations highlight community efforts and federal agencies such as the National Park Service present annual exemplars in accessibility. However, even with the wealth of positive strides made to improve access in parks and recreation, more notable are the instances when public agencies have not planned and implemented comprehensive accessibility management programs. Agencies faced with complaints alleging lack of access to parks, programs, or facilities are often backlogged with more than 15 years of needed accessibility improvements mandated for ADA compliance usually due to management’s inability to address accessibility as a top priority. Nonetheless it puts the agency in the middle of a public relations crisis.

In 2005, the California Department of Parks and Recreation settled two class action lawsuits agreeing to make more than $10 million in accessibility improvements over the next 11 years. Still today there are disability advocacy organizations that claim the settlement does not go far enough to improve access. According to the U.S. Department of Justice (2006), over the last five years the federal enforcement agency has entered into more than 90 settlement agreements with local governments concerning improved access to park and recreation facilities. The Waukegan (Illinois) Park District was one such entity of which the Justice Department received an ADA-related complaint, investigated and entered into a settlement agreement under its Project Civic Access Program. The settlement (DOJ, 2004) calls for the park district to make accessibility improvements at its large regional parks, nature preserve, golf course, administration building, child care center, museum and other facilities. In addition, the terms of the settlement agreement require the park district to hire or appoint a specific staff person with ADA oversight responsibilities “to coordinate the Waukegan Park District effort to comply with and carry out its responsibilities under the ADA.” These examples could represent any park and recreation agency, state or municipal, anywhere in the United States. The lessons to be learned from these or any of the other DOJ settlements is that the provision and maintenance of programs, activities, services and facilities that are accessible to people with disabilities is an ongoing responsibility and one that is only effective through the administration of a comprehensive accessibility management program.

First Steps To Solutions: Defining Business Purpose and Mission

Management theorist Peter F. Drucker has long written about business purpose and mission. His approach to business begins with the simple questions: What is our business? Who are our customers? Where are they? What do they consider value? Purpose and mission becomes the core for every decision made by a park and recreation agency. To carry these questions on a step further to accessibility management, the questions become: Is our business inclusive of people with disabilities? Are people with disabilities represented in our customer base? What are their wants and needs? What do they consider value? According to Drucker (1973, p. 80), each customer has different expectations and values, yet all customers have to be satisfied in the answer to the question “What is our business?”

For park and recreation practitioners, the questions must go beyond “What is our business?” to “What is the experience we want people to come away with?” Pine and Gilmore (as cited by Peters, 2003) describe the “experience ladder” where “raw materials are at the base.” Followed by “goods” then “services.” Then…scraping the sky… “experiences.” This is illustrated (Pine, Gilmore, Peters, p. 120) through the transition of the U.S. economy: 1940-the raw material economy, 1955-the goods economy, 1970-the service economy, 1990-the experience economy. The evolution of the economy as an experience economy—this is where park and recreation professionals need to pay particular attention since ours is the industry where all that we do is centered around the resulting experience a park visitor or program participant will walk away with. A week at summer camp making new friends, an eagle on the 16th hole made in front of the big boss, the legend of the big fish that got away told to old buddies, a hike to Morning Glory Springs with a loved one, these are the experiences, the memories that are made through the provision of parks and recreation.

In his book Re-image! Tom Peters (2003) argues that for success, the organization must transform its thinking beyond the “service” it provides to the “experience” people get as a result of participation. Whether it is camping, golf, fishing, or hiking, the relevance is not necessarily on the “act of” but more so on the “experience from.” These are the experiences that generate the good feelings, the steps toward balanced and healthy living. These are the contributions to individual health that fold into community and global health. The organization, from the top must determine its business purpose and mission and how a diverse customer mix fits into the equation.

Defining Shared Values

Today, our nation is in the midst of a health crisis. Americans say they feel unhealthy (physically or mentally) about 6 days per month while one-third of Americans say they suffer from some mental or emotional problem every month—including 10 percent who say their mental health is not good for 14 or more days a month (CDC, 2006). In a study of adverse childhood experiences, children who experience abuse, neglect and exposure to other traumatic stressors are more at risk for alcoholism and alcohol abuse, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), depression, fetal death, health-related quality of life, illicit drug use, ischemic heart disease (IHD), liver disease, risk for intimate partner violence, multiple sexual partners, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), smoking, suicide attempts, and unintended pregnancies (CDC, 2006). The number of children in the United States who are overweight has more than tripled since 1980 (CDC, 2006) increasing risk factors for cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes. According to the American Association for Retired Persons, four million Americans turn 50 each year (as cited in DOJ, 2006), and by age 65 more than 88 percent have at least one chronic health condition (CDC, 2006). Park and recreation professionals are challenged with creating accessible leisure opportunities where “experience” or “the fun of it” is the primary goal and health promotion is the secondary or even tertiary goal, but a goal nonetheless.  To achieve this goal, inclusion of people of all abilities and backgrounds must become a shared value within the organization.

Shared values within the organization come down to the question “What do we believe in?” Individually and collectively we each hold a core set of beliefs. What are our deeply rooted beliefs? Are our values consistent with our organizational values? Do we know what our organizational values are? And are our actions aligned with our values? Research confirms that organizations with a strong corporate culture based on a foundation of shared values outperform other firms by a huge margin (Kotter and Heskett as cited by Kouzes and Posner, 2002). Why are shared values so important? Recognition of shared values provides people with a common language tremendous energy is generated when individual, group and organizational values are in synch…commitment, enthusiasm, and drive are intensified: people have reasons for caring about their work (Kouzes and Posner, 2002, p. 78). According leadership theorists James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, shared values are the internal compasses that enable people to act both independently and interdependently.

Arriving at organizational consensus on shared values is an intricate process. Kouzes and Posner (p. 83) suggest that shared values are the result of listening, appreciating, building consensus, and practicing conflict resolution. Through this process of defining our business, our mission, our customers, and our values, we must ask the question, “Do we believe that every person, regardless of ability or background, who comes into our facility, should have the equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from the experience that we offer?” While “equal opportunity to participate and benefit” is a core mandate of both Section 504 and the ADA, it should be a core value for each and every public park and recreation agency, federal, state or local. Accessibility for people with disabilities and universal design for the widest spectrum of users are values that should be accepted as part of the organizational culture. Fore, when our values regarding inclusion of people with disabilities are clear, our decisions about accommodations, policy modifications and barrier removal are so much easier. This is further exemplified when a leader of an agency says, “We are doing this [making an accessibility improvement or modifying a policy] not because it is the law, but because it is the right thing to do.”

Involvement in the Process

Buy-in for an accessibility management program must come from the top. Major change is often said to be impossible unless the head of the organization is an active supporter (Kotter, 1996). The board of directors, the CEO, the executive director, the park superintendent, the manager of operations, administration from the top down must share the value of inclusion of people with disabilities first and channel that message to all of their subordinates second. From the top, administration must instill a sense of urgency to make change and to get things done. Status quo can no longer be acceptable, especially when programs and facilities today are still inaccessible. Without a sense of urgency, people won’t give that extra effort that is often essential (Kotter, p. 5).  Ultimately, time of inaction leaves the organization vulnerable to disability-related complaints and litigation.

Implementation of a successful, effective and efficient accessibility management program requires involving everyone in the process, that is EVERYONE–from the CEO to the frontline staff, from the maintenance crew to the concessionaire, from the accessibility coordinator to the local center for independent living. Effective accessibility management programs require a team approach and a commitment to process. (See Appendix A: Implementation of an Accessibility Management Program). Coordination of the program may be assigned to one individual—an accessibility coordinator, however implementation is the responsibility of every single person and position within the organization. This approach is very similar to the implementation of a safety program where one individual is assigned as the risk manager to oversee coordination of the program, and each position in the organization has responsibilities for maintaining a safe environment. Dr. George Head is a special advisor to the Nonprofit Risk Management Center in Washington, D.C. Dr. Head (2006) suggests that risk managers should employ other managers and select individuals throughout the organization to be additional sets of minds, eyes, and ears in detecting the loss exposures that arise or may possibly arise in daily work. This same practice can be applied to an accessibility management program. The accessibility coordinator, as one individual and often assigned accessibility compliance as a collateral duty, cannot possibly be aware of every single policy, programming, purchasing, or construction decision to take place on a daily basis within the organization. With this team approach, the responsibility for accessibility compliance is delegated throughout multiple job functions, departments and divisions so that each individual and unit can support all accessibility improvements and decisions without as many likely to slip through the cracks. In addition, this delegated approach assigns responsibility and accountable for accessibility management throughout the organization.

From the beginning, each individual needs to be integrated as “resource” into the planning process (Drucker, p. 270). Involvement is the key to implementing change and increasing commitment (Covey, 1991). Each individual, from their own background and experience, brings a different and meaningful perspective to the table. Across functions, considerations for decisions affecting policies, capital improvements, renovations, maintenance, and programming can be considered with input from individuals with diverse responsibilities, from the accessibility coordinator to the architect and outdoor planner, from the maintenance supervisor to the recreation programmer. By way of this involvement, decisions can be arrived at through consensus building. When people become involved in the problem, they become significantly and sincerely committed to coming up with solutions to the problem (Covey, p. 221).

Planning for Action

The implementation of an accessibility management program requires a comprehensive assessment of the current state of access within the organization and a purposeful vision for the future. This assessment should identify all physical, communication, policy and procedural barriers to programs, services, activities and facilities. From this point comes the daunting task of prioritizing the removal of barriers to facilitate participation among people with disabilities. In all cases, this will require planning for action at all levels of the organization and in most cases this, too, will require systems change. Kotter (p. 21) suggest an eight stage process for creating major change: 1) establishing a sense of urgency; 2) creating the guiding coalition; 3) developing a vision and a strategy; 4) communicating the change vision; 5) empowering broad based action; 6) generating short-term wins; 7) consolidating gains and producing more change; and 8) anchoring new approaches in the culture. This process can be adapted to serve as a guide for implementing an accessibility management program maximized for its greatest potential.

1. The agency head establishes a sense of urgency by committing to inclusion and providing a sense of direction for staff. In May 2006, Sue Masica, Associate Director for the National Park Service, was called to testify in front of the House Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation and Public Lands regarding disability access to the national parks. As a result of congressional inquiry, several director’s orders have been issued to the National Park Service units within the last six months reiterating the agency’s commitment and calling for purposeful consideration toward accessibility in construction and program development.

2. A guiding coalition is created, shared values are clarified and responsibilities are delegated. In 1992, the Rockford (Illinois) Park District created an access team and a citizen advisory committee on barrier removal. The access team consisted of the accessibility coordinator, a deputy director, the manager of design and construction, the chief of maintenance, the purchasing officer, the risk manager, a recreation program specialist and a representative from human resources. The citizen advisory committee consisted of Rockford citizens with disabilities, parents of children with disabilities, special education teachers, rehabilitation specialists and advocates from the local center for independent living. These two groups, combined as a coalition, have successfully guided policy decisions and capital improvements for accessibility within the park district for more than a decade.

3. Information is gathered for strategic planning. In 2005, the Arlington Heights (Illinois) Park District, through the services of the National Center on Accessibility, conducted a comprehensive accessibility assessment of more than 50 of the district’s neighborhood parks, regional parks, and major facilities. The accessibility assessment includes identification of all physical barriers to the parks and facilities, and recommendations for barrier removal. Now district staff is at work strategically prioritizing accessibility improvements considering factors such as visitor use, geographic location, similar facilities/community resources, and facility life-cycle.

4. Communicating the change vision. As is the case with the Arlington Heights Park District, the director has set a clear vision for improved access to district facilities and key staff including landscape architects, planners, programmers and administrators meet on a regular basis to communicate updates along the way, prioritize and continually evaluate through the process.

5. Consensus is built and empowerment leads to broad-based action. According to Masica (2006), “the NPS has approached the issue of accessibility in parks in a comprehensive and organized way, rather than on a project-by-project basis, through the creation of the Accessibility Management Program. The primary goal of the program is to develop and coordinate a system-wide, comprehensive approach to achieving the highest level of accessibility that is practical, while ensuring consistency with the other legal mandates of conservation and protection of the resources we manage.” However, with an organization as large as the National Park Service, with over 300 parks and historic properties, empowerment was necessary at the park level. So an accessibility coordinator was assigned for each park, region and program office. Through this strategy, accessibility improvements, too numerous to mention, have been implemented, many without the need for involvement from the Washington office.

6. Generating short-term wins. Upon completion of its accessibility assessment in 1992, the Rockford Park District identified several million dollars in needed accessibility improvements. With a limited capital improvement budget ranging between $20,000 and $100,000 annually, completing all projects identified in the assessment would take several years. Achievements in accessibility improvements have been noted annually in reports to the district’s board of commissioners and most importantly to Rockford citizens with disabilities by publication in the semi-annual program guidebook, brochures and web site. And staff maintains a sense that action on the short annual list of improvements is making a holistic impact on the overall big “to do” list.

7. Consolidating gains and producing more change. Dealing with a depleted playground maintenance budget and only left with dollars for capital improvements, the City of Detroit planners made a conscious decision to only plan new playgrounds with unitary rubber surfaces instead of loose fill materials which typically require more maintenance and fill. Concerned about the longevity of unitary rubber surfacing, planners worked together with purchasing agents to write bid specifications requiring playground surface vendors to perform surface testing for impact attenuation and safety immediately upon installation and again after one, two, four, and five years. This bid specification is one of the first known of its kind in the United States and promises to change the process by which playground surfaces are purchased and quantified of product claims.

8. Anchoring new approaches in the culture. Through the leadership of Betty Siegel, Director of Accessibility, services for patrons with disabilities at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. are regarded as an extraordinary model nationally. With support from top administrators, Siegel has grown a small group of accessibility coordinators for theaters into a national network on cultural access and the largest annual meeting specific to the issue. The LEAD (Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability) is the largest annual event for accessibility coordinators in theaters, cultural centers and sports arenas to come together and learn of best practices for serving patrons with disabilities.

Steps 1-4 require clarity and guidance from top administrators, while Steps 5-8 can be accomplished by committed mid-level managers throughout various units of the organization. Change from top management is often referred to as dramatic change, whereby change from the bottom, at the grass roots level, is considered organic change. Management theorist Henry Mintzberg argues that there is a rhythm needed for change for it to be successful and lasting. Because dramatic change alone can be just drama, systematic change by itself can be deadening, and organic change without the other two can be chaotic, they must be combined or, more often, sequenced and paced over time, creating a rhythm of change (Huy and Mintzberg, 2003, p. 80). While implementation of an accessibility management program requires commitment and buy-in from the top, it cannot be forced on mid-level managers without their involvement and faith in the process. As much, the process must include an information and fact-finding journey to increase the base of knowledge so everyone involved in the process is making informed decisions and working “from the same page” toward the same common goal. Comprehensive planning with input from key stakeholders including citizens, board members, civic leaders, planners, program staff, and others will become as much of a journey as it is a destination for improved access to parks and facilities. Often, proposed solutions for accessibility improvements, like paving a trail or allowing service animals where pets are usually restricted are likely to draw opposition from various stakeholders. It is important to recognize that some people may be pessimistic. Kotter (p. 17) explains that people who have been through difficult, painful, and not very successful change efforts often end up drawing both pessimistic and angry conclusions…they become suspicious of the motives of those pushing for transformation; they worry that major change is not possible without carnage. At times the process may become challenging, frustrating, and even emotional. This is the time when the accessibility coordinator and key stakeholders will need to step back and examine each perspective and opinion to push forward for a creative and mutually acceptable solution for all — a win-win. In the midst of disagreement and controversy it is difficult to identify what is going on and the resulting need to step back for a “timeout.” Managers have to face issues in the full complexity of living, not as compartmentalized packages…knowledge may be important, but wisdom – the capacity to combine knowledge from different sources and use it judiciously – is key (Gosling and Mintzberg, 2004).

Evaluating for Action

Ongoing evaluation is essential to determine “are we doing the right things right?” and “how can we make this work better?” Evaluation is the process of determining the effectiveness and efficiency of practices and plans (Russell and Morwen, 2005). Through evaluation, the organization will be able to determine the impact the accessibility management program is making with its visitors and participants with disabilities, their family members and friends. Moreover, a systematic evaluation will enable the organization to determine the greater impact accessibility improvements in its parks, facilities, and programs are making within the community. According to Russell and Morwen (2005, p. 656), evaluation helps managers to: determine that funds are wisely spent; examine the vitality of the organization’s mission and objectives; conduct services efficiently; determine the impact of services on those who use them; learn how to redirect service efforts; reinforce staff efforts or recommend new directions; assist policy makers in directing the organization toward productive channels; evidence the strengths of services, which provide motivation to program participants and potential users of organization services; project positive public relations; help others anticipate problems in implementing similar services; and protect the interests of those with limited intellectual ability who cannot otherwise complain or judge service quality.

Outcome evaluation. At a minimum, every accessibility improvement should be evaluated by the access team and users with disabilities to determine if the construction, alteration, program adaption or policy change is effective and usable. There is no sense moving on with other accessibility improvements until the access team knows that what has been done so far is effective for its intended users. Imagine installing ten automatic doors throughout a facility at $20,000 each only to learn that when opened manually, they are too heavy to open for non-disabled users. What was designed and installed to create access for one user group and created a barrier for another.

Process evaluation. As alluded to previously, the implementation of an accessibility management program is as much a process as it is a final destination. In many instances the process will become just as significant as the final product. Therefore, the process should be continually evaluated for effectiveness and efficiency. Is this working? Are we achieving or exceeding our stated goals? Are all of the key stakeholders involved and moving toward the same common goal? What is missing? How can we make this work better? It is only through the evaluation process that we can determine if what we are doing is truly making an impact, both externally to our citizens and internally to our employees.

Adapting for a Changing World

Our world has changed. In a post-9/11, post-Hurricane Katrina era, public agencies have been forced to adapt and adapt quickly. Overnight security and emergency preparedness have become high priorities without room for error. We are living in a global economy. Organizations nationally and globally have been forced to re-evaluate priorities and adapt for change for safety, security, and efficiency of operation. For public park and recreation organizations, we must instill flexibility and adaptability as character traits within the organizational culture. We must be able to align strategically for long-term planning, but be adaptable for an ever changing marketplace. Through adaptability we have the ability to move quickly toward new opportunities, to adjust to volatile markets and to avoid complacency (Birkinshaw and Gibson, 2004). Through alignment we have a clear sense of how value is being created in the short term and how activities should be coordinated and streamlined to deliver that value (Birkinshaw and Gibson, p. 47). For an organization, the balance between alignment and adaptability is referred to as ambidexterity. In short, we need to know where we are going, but we also need to be flexible enough on the route to get there.

From the accessibility assessment process to the planning process, the barriers to access for visitors and participants with disabilities need to be identified and prioritized for removal. An accessibility coordinator should be assigned for overall coordination, but with the delegation of accessibility compliance laid out across job functions and with the involvement of key stakeholders. Prioritization of barrier removal should include all members of the access team and stakeholders from the community. The prioritization process should be an ongoing, dynamic and fluid process. What may have been a level three priority yesterday, very likely could become a level one high priority today. For example, a parks department may have four outdoor swimming pools, all requiring pool lifts for access into the water. However, to address as many different types (golf courses, playgrounds, picnic areas, trails, pools, recreation centers, etc) of facilities each year as possible, this year’s funding allocation only covers the cost for a lift at one pool. Which pool will it be? The access team prioritized a neighborhood pool in the southwest quadrant of the city that has the highest volume of daily visitors. However, a complaint from a citizen with a disability, who uses a pool on the northeast side of the city, may cause the access team to rethink their prioritization either relocating the new lift to the northeast pool or reprioritizing another project in order to install a lift at both the northeast and southwest pools.

In another example, a city parks department received state and federal funding, prior to the ADA, to build a pedestrian bridge across the river and link two waterfronts used for festivals. Across the river, the pedestrian forks in two directions, the south point of egress is accessible and spills out to the library esplanade, the north point of egress (on the same side of the river) is inaccessible with two steps dropping out to the greenway. During a spring festival, the accessibility coordinator was walking in a large crowd toward the inaccessible egress, did not see the two steps and fell. On Monday, she reported the area as a priority for improvement both for accessibility and for safety considering the volume of pedestrians and likelihood that others may not see the step when traveling in a crowd. Several access team members disputed the priority as a level one and compromised with the placement of two signs: one on the bridge indicating the direction of the accessible point of egress pointing toward the library esplanade and another near the steps reading “watch your step.” Three months later, a woman fell down the steps, twisted her ankle and brought a torte claim against the city parks department. Within weeks, the two steps were torn out and replaced with a concrete, accessible ramp. As a result of threatened litigation, the low priority accessibility improvement quickly became a high priority safety improvement.

Both examples signify the salient need for the accessibility management program to be adaptable, dynamic, and with a fluid ability to respond to changing priorities within the organization, the community and the world.


The United States has a rich history of discrimination against people with disabilities. It is only in the last 30 years that access, inclusion, and equal opportunity have emerged through social justice as basic and shared civil rights for more than 52 million Americans with disabilities. Needless to say, there has been an exaggerated lag in modifying facilities, services and programs to accommodate people with disabilities. The rationale for such lag is no less than management’s inability to recognize the civil rights needs of 52 million customers and put it into context among other priorities within the organization. If management were easy, there wouldn’t be so many books dedicated to the subject. But for park and recreation agencies, the implementation of an accessibility management program must start somewhere. If we begin with the basic human assumption and professional judgment that every person, regardless of ability or background, who comes into our facility, should have the equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from the experience that we offer, then the rest [implementation of the accessibility management program] will come easy.

About the Author

Jennifer Skulski is the Director of Marketing and Special Projects for NCA. Over the last 15 years, Jennifer has provided technical assistance and training to the private sector, state and local governments, advocates and consumers on compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. She has diverse expertise in ADA employment regulations, Title 2 implementation, accessibility standards, universal design, access to playgrounds and outdoor recreation environments. Her research interests include accessibility management and organizational change, universal design, visitor use, and playground access.


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