Interviewer: Terri Rozaieski
Pride took the opportunity to contact Bob Stanton, Director of the National Park Service (NPS) regarding the accessibility of our Nation's State Parks. Mr. Stanton promptly offered his enthusiastic response to our inquiry and offered an interview with Dave Park, Accessibility Program Coordinator for NPS. Following is the text of that exchange:
Pride: Thanks, Dave, for speaking with us today. As a person who uses a wheelchair for mobility and who has visited many of our Nation's State Parks, I've always found very good accessibility and friendly employees who are knowledgeable about working with people with disabilities. I'd like to ask you a few questions regarding the efforts of NPS in reference to this.
NPS: It's great to speak with you. I'm always happy to promote our National Park Service.
Pride: How many parks are there in the National Park Service?
NPS: That changes from time to time as each region can ask to have additional parks added. Currently, there are approximately 375.
Pride: Are each of these parks wheelchair accessible?
NPS: There are so many elements with regard to accessibility that have to be addressed. Each park really has to be considered individually as they each offer varying degrees of accessibility. We're working every year to keep improving.
Pride: Tell me, Dave, how the push for accessibility started in the NPS.
NPS: In the early 60's most of the visitor centers were built. A great deal of money was allotted for the construction of these centers and the project was named "Mission 66." The goal of this program was that all of the centers would be completed by the end of the year of 1966. Unfortunately, any legislation supporting the accessibility of these centers wasn't introduced until 1968. Consequently, those early centers were not accessible.
The first real steps to correct the problem came in 1973 with the passage of Section 504 of the National Rehab Act. Then twenty years ago, I was able to take my graduate degree in Therapeutic Recreation and start the Accessibility Program, as it is known today. Since that time, each of the seven regions of the NPS has appointed their own Regional Accessibility Coordinator and each individual park has a Park Accessibility Coordinator. I coordinate the efforts of all of these people.
Part of my job is to monitor and coordinate the education, inservicing, and training of park employees. I help them to interpret the rules and regulations of disability legislation and share ongoing technical developments that will allow us to do a better job of providing accessibility to the most people, not just those with mobility impairments.
Perhaps the greatest step forward came on March 4, 1987, when the Department of the Interior mandated that each park perform a self-evaluation of its accessibility status and continue to make changes as need be to conform to accessibility guidelines. These self-evals were completed in 1989 and work has continued since that time to better the accessibility of each park. As annual cyclic maintenance is performed, accessibility changes are made too. Of course, all newer facilities are built completely to code and are fully accessible.
Pride: Where does the money come from to perform these modifications?
NPS: Unfortunately, no additional dollars are allotted for this work. It's what is called an "unfunded mandate," meaning that the budget for modifications must come from the general fund of annual operating dollars.
Pride: So, Dave, if a person with a disability is considering visiting a particular National Park, where should they look for information of the degree of accessibility?
NPS: First, they should visit the NPS website located at www.nps.gov. They can access information on each park, including the degree of accessibility and special adaptive equipment that is available for use, from this site. Second, if they have further questions, they can contact the park directly and ask to speak to the Park Accessibility Coordinator.
Pride: Dave, what parting words do you have for a person with a disability who is considering visiting a national park? What do they have to look forward to?
NPS: The National Park Service is really an exceedingly special system. These parks don't become a part of the NPS without having some special and unique significance. Each is just extremely unique and our staff is truly trained to show and educate on what that is whether it's cultural, historical or archaeological. They are each just one-of-a-kind.
For our friends with disabilities, we like to stress that we continually work to improve our architectural structures for those with mobility impairments but we are also dedicated to our programmatic effort. We offer a broad range of audio-visual presentations, publications, exhibits and lectures as well as sign language interpreters and literature in Braille. We want everyone to be able to fully enjoy the National Park Service.
Pride: Thank you, Dave, for your time!
NPS: I'm so glad to be of service and I hope you enjoy your future park visits.
PLEASE NOTE: As a service to guests with disabilities, the National Park Service offers the Golden Access Passport. This is a free lifetime entrance pass for persons who are blind or permanently disabled. It is available to citizens or permanent residents of the United States, regardless of age, who have been determined to be blind or permanently disabled. You may obtain a Golden Access Passport at any entrance fee area by showing proof of medically determined disability and eligibility for receiving benefits under federal law.
The Golden Access Passport admits the pass holder and any accompanying passengers in a private vehicle. Where entry is not by private vehicle, the passport admits the pass holder, spouse, children, and parents.
The Golden Access Passport also provides a 50% discount on federal use fees charged for facilities and services such as fees for camping, swimming, parking, boat launching, or cave tours. It does not cover or reduce special recreation permit fees or fees charged by concessioners.
- Information courtesy of NPS website