June 22, 2007

US Access Board Proposes Guidelines for Federal Outdoor Developed Areas

Outdoor accessibility has been a long-deferred issue in the US. The Access Board is taking it on. The following is a communication from the US Access Board:

The Board has released for public comment new accessibility guidelines for Federal parks and recreation areas. As proposed, the guidelines address access to new or altered trails, beaches, and picnic and camping areas on sites managed by the Federal government. Achieving accessibility in outdoor environments has long been a source of inquiry due to challenges and constraints posed by terrain, the degree of development, construction practices and materials, and other factors. In developing these guidelines, the Board seeks to clarify how, and to what extent, accessibility criteria can be applied to outdoor developed areas.

The guidelines specify where compliance is required and provide detailed technical criteria for achieving access. These specifications derive from existing Board guidelines for buildings and facilities, but have been modified and tailored for application to outdoor developed areas. Conditions that necessitate departures are recognized, including situations where meeting certain provisions would compromise natural features, require prohibited construction methods or materials, or be infeasible due to terrain. For example, a portion of a trail could be exempt from minimum width requirements where rock outcroppings or similar natural features restrict the trail width.

The guidelines were developed by a regulatory negotiation committee chartered by the Board. The Outdoor Developed Areas Regulatory Negotiation Committee’s 27 members included representatives from parks and outdoor recreation associations, disability groups, state and Federal land management agencies, and others. This rulemaking approach enables interested groups and stakeholders to assume a leadership role in drafting a new regulation and provides a forum for different, and sometimes competing, interests to reach consensus on its substance. The Board’s proposal substantively tracks the detailed specifications developed by the committee and submitted to the Board.

The guidelines would apply to sites developed or altered by Federal land management agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Army Corps of Engineers, among others. The Board intends to develop guidelines for outdoor developed areas controlled by non-Federal entities at a future date.

The guidelines, which are posted on the Board’s website at www.access-board.gov/outdoor/nprm/, are available for comment until October 18th. A notice published with the guidelines discusses the provisions, poses questions to the public on various issues, and includes instructions for providing comments. Comments can be submitted by email, fax, or mail. In addition, the Board will hold public hearings on the guidelines in Denver on July 24th and in Washington, D.C. on September 6th. For further information, contact Bill Botten at botten@access-board.gov, (202) 272-0014 (v), or (202) 272-0082 (TTY).

Overview of the Proposed Guidelines for Outdoor Developed Areas

The guidelines would apply to outdoor developed areas constructed or altered by Federal land management agencies. Exemptions and departures from certain criteria are recognized where access would:

▪ substantially harm cultural, historic, religious, or significant natural features or characteristics;

▪ substantially alter the nature of the setting or its purpose;

▪ require prohibited construction methods or materials;

▪ be infeasible due to terrain or prevailing construction practices.

These exceptions apply primarily to requirements for trails. As proposed, they would permit departures only from those specifications that would pose one of the recognized conflicts. All other specifications would still apply.


Specifications for trails address firmness and stability, running and cross slopes, width, and other characteristics. They would apply to new trails or to altered portions of existing ones. Application would be limited to trails that already connect to designated trailheads or to existing accessible trails so that compliance results in a continuous accessible network. Exceptions and conditions permit departures where compliance would be difficult due to factors such as topography or would conflict with prevailing construction practices. For example, at sites where only natural surface materials are allowed, certain departures from criteria for firmness and stability may be allowed. To make compliance more feasible, some trail specifications differ considerably from existing Board guidelines for accessible routes, such as those permitting a steeper and more continuous running slope.


The guidelines address beach access and would require access routes to the water’s edge at intervals up to a half mile at new beaches. Accessible beach routes also would be required at redeveloped beaches that are served or bordered by pedestrian routes, such as a boardwalk. Criteria for these routes address surface, slope, width and other features and are similar to those for trails. Temporary beach routes would be permitted in alterations.

Picnic and Camping Areas

Scoping and technical requirements for picnic and camping elements are included in the guidelines. These provisions cover:

▪ picnic tables ▪ fire rings, fireplaces, and wood stoves

▪ cooking surfaces ▪ trash containers

▪ overlooks and viewing areas ▪ benches

▪ utilities and sinks ▪ warming huts

▪ rinsing showers and pit toilets ▪ signage

▪ parking for camp sites and camping vehicles

For most elements, access would be required to at least half the number provided in each area. The guidelines also address connecting accessible routes to these elements. Specifications for these routes are more stringent than those for trails since camping and picnic areas typically involve more site development and are subject to fewer accessibility challenges.

Supplementary Technical Provisions

The proposed guidelines are structured as a stand-alone document, although many provisions derive from existing facility guidelines. They include a section of supplementary technical provisions that address fundamental aspects of accessibility, such as wheelchair turning space and accessible reach ranges.

Posted by rollingrains at June 22, 2007 01:29 AM