JOHN MCGOVERN: Thanks for being here and thanks for the time to testify. My name is John McGovern. I am the Executive Director of the Northern Suburban Special Recreation Association (NSSRA). NSSRA is a partnership of 13 local governments formed in 1970 to coordinate recreation programs for people with disabilities who live in our communities. Our services fall into three areas: supporting inclusive participation of people with disabilities, providing recreation programs where people with disabilities can, if they choose, recreate together, and providing information to assist those 13 governments make new facilities and sites accessible and to retrofit existing facilities and sites for access. The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) is a national, not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing park, recreation, and conservation efforts through our network of more than 21,000 citizens and professionals who provide safe and enjoyable recreation to the general public. Access and inclusion is a cornerstone of what we do. We help our members do their job in their communities. NRPA has been fortunate to have involvement with the Access Board in the process of developing these guidelines. From our involvement with the very first Recreation Access Advisory Committee, to our inclusion in the Play Areas Reg Neg Committee, to our inclusion in the Outdoor Developed Recreation Areas Reg Neg Committee, we believe we have contributed towards these guidelines. We thank you for your invitations to collaborate and look forward to more. We appointed a task force to review the NPRM and it represents a wide range of our membership. Today I’ll make general comments, and other task force members following me will get more specific.
We also thank you for your continued commitment to developing accessibility guidelines. The Access Board has made this a priority for more than a decade and we applaud you for the work that you do.
We have heard that the Access Board intends this NPRM to apply to “…outdoor developed areas designed, constructed, or altered by Federal agencies subject to the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968.” However in another place, the NPRM says “The Architectural Barriers Act applies to federally financed facilities.” That contradicts the earlier statement and seems to broaden the application. Therefore, we seek your clarification. If it is to apply to recreation sites and facilities that are built or rebuilt with federal funds, such as grants like LAWCON or funds from federal government agencies, such as FEMA, please say that and be very clear about it. We also seek clarification on an old issue: what is considered “new” or “existing” property. If the outdoor developed area was operated by a separate entity and then later sold to the federal government, is that property “new” or “existing”?
We encourage the Board to consider the inclusion of a documentation requirement to direct planners and programmers to detail the process they used for the siting of outdoor developed areas. With the landscape as a drafting board, documentation would allow us to revisit the thoughts of the land manager and understand why he or she chose to take the trail that way instead of this way. Sometimes “that” way requires a departure from technical provisions for accessibility, while the equally acceptable “this” way would have been accessible.
We also encourage the Board to provide clear language as to the qualities and characteristics of historic sites and protected wilderness areas. Planners need to understand what characteristics make a site eligible for recognition as an historic site. That allows them to plan for and accommodate those characteristics.
Park and recreation managers should strive to make as many of their elements accessible as is reasonable and feasible to do so. As picnic tables, fire rings, fireplaces, grills, benches, and other outdoor elements or features need to be replaced, due to damage or wear and tear, they should be replaced with the most accessible design element available. Furthermore, all new features or elements should be accessible to utilize economies of scale and to avoid non-compliance in the future. Finally, woven throughout the guideline should be a simple concept. The more that a site is developed, the more accessible it should be. This came up in a couple of our conversations with regard to beachfront access routes and outdoor recreation access routes and the various amenities that are often at an outdoor site. Clearly we think the more there are, the greater the access should be. And we would encourage you to make that a requirement. As I said, some of the people following will give you more specific technical comments. But again, we really appreciate your presence here and being willing to invite us to make comments as well.