Dear Sir or Madam:
The American Horse Council (AHC) appreciates the opportunity to submit the following comments on the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board’s proposed rules on accessibility guidelines for outdoor developed areas designed, constructed or altered by Federal agencies subject to the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 (ABA). The guidelines cover trails, outdoor recreation access routes, and picnic and camping facilities to ensure that new construction and alterations of such facilities are readily available and usable by people with disabilities.
The AHC is a Washington-based association that represents the horse industry before Congress and the federal regulatory agencies. The AHC includes individual members and over 160 equine organizations representing all horse breeds and virtually every facet of the horse industry, including recreational riders, therapeutic riding organizations and programs, state horse councils, horse owners, breeders, veterinarians, race tracks, horse shows, rodeos, farriers, breed registries, horsemen's associations, and commercial suppliers.
There are many forms of disability recognized by the broad scope of the Americans with Disabilities Act. When considering access to trails and natural places, any significant medical condition that impairs a person’s ability to gain such access deserves consideration. While some accommodations are impractical, those accommodations that apply to large numbers of people, are commonly in use, and that require a minimum of additional cost or interference with other user’s access deserve high priority. As pointed out in the proposed rule, when people with physical limitations have access through some accommodation, rules concerning access must protect such continued access.
While the proposed rule goes into great detail regarding means of augmenting access for wheelchair bound individuals, it gives little attention to the much larger numbers of people with limited mobility due to arthritis, heart disease, lung problems, peripheral vascular disease and a wide variety of other medical problems that do not leave them wheelchair bound. The rule also generally ignores the desire of people to reach points of interest miles from a trail head or otherwise gain access to backcountry far from locations accessible to automobiles or other motorized means.
Many Americans with these various physical impairments regularly visit trails and backcountry on horseback. Indeed, more and more such trail users with these conditions are using horses, and particularly gaited horses for an easier ride, as a means of access. The horse is by far the most common and most environmentally friendly means of access to trails for physically challenged individuals. In fact, when on a horse, most physically impaired individuals, whether wheel-chair bound or not, are indistinguishable from others and enjoy the same degree of mobility as their less physically-challenged companions. Yet the proposed rule only mentions horses and equestrians to point out exceptions to the rules requirements.
When one considers that most wheelchair bound individuals travel only a few hundred feet on trails while horse riders with impairments can travel ten to twenty miles or more at a time, it is clear that not mentioning equestrians and horses in the proposed rule in connection with access is an oversight.
The proposed rule should specifically recognize horses, mules and burros as a vital means of access to trails by physically-challenged individuals and should encourage land managers to consider the role of equines when formulating plans to accommodate physically-impaired individuals. The importance of preserving existing equine access to cross country and backcountry trails to maintain their accessibility to physically- impaired individuals should also be recognized. While no one is suggesting horses be added to trails where their presence would be inappropriate, the vital role of the horse in providing access to trails and back country for large numbers of physically impaired Americans is undeniable.
The horse is a major means of access for disabled individuals. Many therapeutic riding programs prepare handicapped individuals for the experience of trail riding. Indeed such programs are working with disabled veterans of the Iraq war and teaching them to ride or facilitating their riding under new limitations. But they need trails, trail heads for the horses, access routes, mounting blocks and ramps, picnic and camping facilities, rest rooms and stables that accommodate their special needs. These special needs both at trail heads and at various locations or camping/rest areas along equine trails should be specifically recognized in the proposed rules. The concept of mobility enhancing equipment should include the horse and pack stock as an appropriate and historic transportation mode for those with physical limitations.
Riding provides all Americans, and particularly those with disabilities, with a link to the past. Physically-challenged riders are able to experience the historic activities of an earlier time. To be able to view and live as our forefathers did, as early explorers and settlers did, provides many with the opportunity to connect with history outside a museum setting. Our link to the past is our ability to carry out this tradition and culture of early pioneer days and to work to ensure that these traditions are not lost to future generations. This opportunity must be recognized and protected for all Americans in these rules, particularly disabled Americans.
The AHC appreciates the opportunity to submit these comments. If you have any questions, please contact us.
James J. Hickey, Jr.