ADA Accessibility Standards Now Include Parks

January 5, 2012 by Parks Conservancy Staff

At the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, we believe that public parks are our city’s most democratic spaces because they are free to all of its citizens. We also know that this is only true if these wonderfully free green spaces are accessible to everyone as well. With some help from the Pittsburgh Community, we’ve been uncovering and studying the challenges that some people face when visiting our parks.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990 and was a huge step toward addressing the needs of disabled persons in this country. In the 20 years since the Act passed, many questions and issues arose, and in 2010 the Department of Justice revised the requirements and created the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design (2010 Standards).

The 2010 Standards represent a bit of a landmark in our field of parks restoration since it is the first time that we have formal accessibility standards for recreation facilities such as playgrounds, pools, and amusement rides. We welcome this expansion of standards here at the Conservancy as it will allow us to improve the accessibility of our park projects.

The March 15, 2012 implementation deadline will enforce the 2010 Standards to all new construction as well as to alterations or additions to existing facilities. The Department of Justice does not mandate that all existing facilities meet these standards by this deadline; however, readily achievable changes should be made and a plan should be put in place to accomplish accessibility.

The goal of accessibility for everyone is complex. “Everything has to be looked at through multiple lenses,” says Susan Rademacher, Parks Curator for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. While it seems obvious that a goal in the design of a new playground is to allow a disabled child to play easily with other children, less obvious is the fact that a disabled parent also would need to be able to reach her child (disabled or not) in case she falls or gets hurt.

Removing barriers to accommodate wheelchairs can be problematic for a person who is visually impaired and needs signals that they can detect in a cane sweep. A good example of this would be a drinking fountain which juts directly out of a wall with nothing around it – a visually impaired person may not know it’s coming since his or her cane would pass below the fountain as if nothing were there, but a person using a wheelchair would appreciate the ease with which they could get a drink.

Other improvements can be as simple as installing insulation around hot water pipes under sinks so that they won’t burn the legs of a wheelchair user, or making sure that trash cans aren’t left to block the path of travel by maintenance crews.

We are passionate about everyone’s right to public parks. We are actively teaming up with experts in the accessibility field help us meet, and where possible, exceed, these new standards in future projects, as well as focusing on ways to improve current obstacles to the universal use of our parks. Our awareness has been heightened by this process and we will bring a more informed accessibility lens to all of our future work. We welcome discussion on this important issue and are actively seeking advice from park goers about what would make their parks better. For more information, contact Susan Rademacher, Parks Curator, at

Learn more about the American Disabilities Act on their website. View the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design here, or call the toll free ADA information line: 1 800 514 0301 (voice) 1 800 514 0383 (TTY)

Park Design