Many recreational areas must be accessible

The domain of recreational facilities covers a large number and variety of venues ranging from public parks to amusement park rides. The following sections summarize some of the guidelines specified by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA), but ate not intended to be comprehensive.

Amusement rides

Guidelines differ depending on whether the ride is new or was constructed prior to 2002. Newly constructed or designed rides must provide at least one wheelchair space or one ride seat designed or a device that transfers a person using a wheelchair from the load and unload area to a ride seat. The same applies to rides that have been altered, or significantly redesigned.

There are several exclusions, including:

  • Mobile or portable amusement rides such as those in traveling carnivals and fares,
  • Rider-controlled rides such as bumper cars,
  • Rides designed primarily for children, and
  • Rides that don’t have seats.

Even in those cases, however, operators must provide accessible routes to and from the ride.

Guide on Amusement Rides (U.S. Access Board)

Boating facilities

Structures that were in place prior to 2002 are not required to comply with accessibility standards unless they are repaired or replaced. In that event rules apply if the cost of making facilities accessible doesn't exceed 20% of the overall alteration costs.

In case of new or altered facilities, operators must provide at least one accessible route to connect buildings, facilities, elements, and spaces. Boat slips must also be accessible, subject to specific requirements on width and slope. Rules also apply for handrails and the use of elevators instead of ramps.

A minimum number of accessible boat slips must be provided depending upon the total number of slips in the facility. The rule specifies certain minimum sizes and dispersions of accessible slips.

Guide on Boating Facilities (U.S. Access Board)

Fishing piers and platforms

For structures that were built specifically for fishing, there was be at least one accessible route and requirements regarding handrails and transition plates are similar to those of boating facilities. There are also specifications regarding guardrail height, and edge protection and ground space for anglers in wheelchairs.

Guide on Fishing Piers and Platforms (U.S. Access Board)

Golf courses

Accessible route guidelines must be followed to enable golfers to reach all playing areas by golf cart. There are also specific size rules regarding tee areas, putting greens, weather shelters, and driving ranges that are intended to accommodate the use of golf carts.

Guide on Golf Courses (U.S. Access Board)

Miniature golf courses

The same rules regarding unobstructed access to facilities that apply to other recreational venues also apply here. Minimum sizes and slopes are specified for start of play and for access to balls in play. For example, the accessible route on a playing surface must be within the reach of a standard golf club. Rules also apply to the stability and slip resistance of carpets used on the course.

Guide on Miniature Golf (U.S. Access Board)

Play areas

Because it is impossible to make certain playground components fully accessible, the ADA/ABA rules specify that a certain amount of equipment must be accessible for ground-level play. The number of components depends upon how many elevated-play components are provided. For example, a play area with between 11 and 13 elevated play components must have five ground-level components on accessible routes of which at least three are different. Certain exceptions apply if ramps provide access to at least half of elevated play components.

Guide on Play Areas (U.S. Access Board)

Playing surfaces

The guidelines for playing surfaces are extensive. They cover considerations such as site planning and selection, installation, maintenance, and comparative surface options. The guide recommends written plans for drainage, fall heights, and surface characteristics.

Surfacing the Accessible Playground: 7 Things Every Playground Owner Should Know About the Accessibility of Their Playground Surfaces (U.S. Access Board)

Sports facilities

These guidelines cover single- and multi-use facilities such as court sports, field sports, and gyms. Rules cover such elements as dressing rooms, seating areas, exercise equipment, saunas, animal containment areas, bowling lanes, and shooting facilities. They do not apply to raised structures used for refereeing, animal containment areas not for public use, raised boxing and wrestling rings, and water slides. Rules specify what percentage of common areas such as saunas and locker rooms must be accessible, adhering to minimum heights and widths. Most exercise equipment must also meet minimum standards for accessibility, although standards don’t necessarily apply to individual pieces of equipment.

Guide on Sports Facilities

Swimming pools, wading pools, and spas

An accessible route is required to swimming areas and all the supporting amenities but not to raised diving boards, platforms, or water slides. Large pools with over 300 linear feet of pool wall must have a minimum of two accessible means of entry, either sloped or by a lift. Minimum entry point requirements also apply to wave action pools, catch pools, wading pools, and spas. Lifts must meet certain standards for seat sizes, armrests, operation, submerged depth, and capacity. The regulations also cover space and handle requirements for enabling people to get into and out of a pool.

Guide on Swimming Pools, Wading Pools, and Spas (U.S. Access Board)

Helpful resources for operators of recreational facilities