Americans with Disabilities Act Update: Utilizing the Civil Rights Law to Better Include Participants with Disabilities

Jennifer Skulski

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 2.8 million school-aged children with disabilities in the United States. Their functional limitations range from effected hearing and vision to diminished mobility and cognition. For children diagnosed with disabilities, participation in recreation and camp activities becomes paramount in positively contributing to physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development. For camp staff attempting to meet the needs of children with disabilities, staying up-to-date on the developing regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) while implementing an accessibility management program within the camp organization has become essential. At the National Center on Accessibility (NCA) at Indiana University, we provide training and technical assistance to recreation practitioners, administrators, planners, designers, and consumers. They have many questions on how the ADA applies to recreation programs, services, activities, and facilities. The purpose of this article is to highlight recent changes to the ADA and outline an accessibility management program for camp administrators, all with the goal of successfully including children with disabilities in all aspects of camp programming.

Camps conducted by municipal park and recreation departments and state agencies are covered under Title II of the ADA as units of state or local government. Most camps, such as those conducted by the YMCA or Boys and Girls Clubs, are public accommodations and covered under Title III of the ADA. Private camps, such as those owned by a family or private entity, are also considered public accommodations covered by Title III as well. While the ADA was enacted in 1990, much has happened in the last three years regarding updates to the regulations and accessibility standards.

Revised ADA Regulations Implementing Title II and Title III of the ADA

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the designated federal agency charged with enforcing Title II and Title III of the ADA, issued revised regulations that went into effect March 15, 2011 ( The most substantive changes affecting camps deal with service animals, power-driven mobility devices, and the design standards for facilities.

Service Animals

Over the last twenty years, it had become common for people with disabilities to use different animals to perform disability-related tasks and also serve as emotional support. Use of “exotic” animals had brought attention to many policy issues. As such, in the revised ADA regulations, the DOJ has limited the definition of service animal to “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” It is becoming very common for children with disabilities to be paired with service dogs to help them in their daily life activities. For a child using a wheelchair, the service dog might assist to pick up an item out of reach. For a child with a cognitive impairment, the service dog might be specially trained to help the child focus his/her attention. Camp administrators should have a policy in place regarding camp registrants with service animals. Camp operating procedures should address where supplies like food can be stored, location of an animal relief area, and handling the animal when the child is actively engaged in activities such as swimming or a ropes challenge course. The revised regulations can be used as guidance in policy development, such as requiring the service animal to be house broken and under the control of the handler.

Wheelchairs and Other Power-Driven Mobility Devices

Wheelchairs and assistive mobility devices have also changed over the last twenty years due to advancing technologies. Wheelchairs are becoming larger to accommodate people who are obese. In addition, there is a growing population of people who are ambulatory but use other power-driven mobility devices, such as Segways. The DOJ’s revised regulations provide camp administrators with guidance on how to assess the use of such devices within a facility, considering the device size, weight, and speed with the volume of pedestrian traffic.

2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design

Along with revising the regulations in Title II and Title III, the DOJ issued revisions to the former ADA Accessibility Guidelines. The new 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design cover new construction and alterations to existing facilities. Most notable for camps, the accessibility standards now also contain scoping and technical provisions for recreation facilities, including swimming pools, playgrounds, sports courts and fields, fishing piers, boating facilities, and golf courses. Camp administrators should consult the standards prior to plan development for all new construction and any alterations or renovations to existing facilities.

One of the biggest misconceptions about the ADA is when managers say their facility is “grandfathered” or not covered by the ADA and, as such, they are not required to make the facility accessible. This is false. There is no such grandfather clause under the ADA. In fact, both Title II and Title III require organizations to take proactive steps to make their facilities accessible to people with disabilities. Title II has a “program access standard” requiring structural barrier removal or policy modification in order to make the program accessible to people with disabilities. In many instances, this requires facilities of state and local government to be assessed, barriers identified, and corrective actions assigned with timelines in an ADA transition plan (see Title II Section 35.150[d]). Although Title III does not have the same strict “program access standard” of Title II, it does require public accommodations to take proactive steps toward making their goods and services accessible. Title III requires barrier removal in existing facilities where such removal is “readily achievable” or “easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense” (see Title III Section 36.304). Both the “program access” and “readily achievable” standards are ongoing responsibilities for public entities and public accommodations. Barrier removal should continue to be prioritized annually until all programs, goods, services, and activities are fully accessible when viewed in their entirety.

Another misconception about the revised ADA regulations is the “safe harbor” provision. Within the revised regulations, the safe harbor clause states if existing facilities already comply with the 1991 standards and there are no plans for alterations, 
they are not required to be modified to comply with the new 2010 standards. The safe harbor clause does not apply to the new recreation facilities since these areas were not previously covered in the 1991 standards.

Swimming Pools

Probably one of the most common facilities among camps is swimming pools. The new 2010 standards require newly constructed swimming pools and existing pools that are altered to either have a swimming pool lift, ramp, or zero depth entry as the primary means of accessible entry for people with mobility impairments. The compliance date requirements of this particular provision were extended. Since January 31, 2013, pool operators should be using the scoping and technical provisions for swimming pools whenever a new pool is constructed or when an existing pool is altered. The compliance date is not a deadline, nor does it mean a pool operator must have a lift installed by this date. It simply means from this date forward, the new standards should be referenced for new construction, for alterations to existing facilities, and to achieve the “program access” or “readily achievable standards.”

Say, for example, you have an existing pool where no alterations are planned. The proactive part of the ADA regulations for “program access” under Title II and “readily achievable” under Title III apply in this situation. By way of these two sections of the regulations, public entities and public accommodations are to identify where lack of access to the pool is a barrier for participants with disabilities. To do this most efficiently, camp administrators should assess each existing pool to identify corrective actions. The plan for proactive corrective actions should be outlined in a transition plan with a timeline for completion. Accessibility improvements could include the installation of a ramped entry or swimming pool lift. Nonetheless, each pool should be assessed individually and then prioritized with the collectively needed accessibility improvements for the entire camp.

Future Accessibility Standards for Outdoor Recreation Areas

In addition to the development of accessibility guidelines for recreation facilities, the U.S. Access Board has been working on standards for trails, picnic areas, campgrounds, and beaches that are managed by federal land management agencies. The scoping and technical provisions will be the most comprehensive to date and will create much greater access for people with disabilities than ever before seen in outdoor recreation areas. This rulemaking is expected to be issued within the next eighteen months under the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA). While this applies to federal land management agencies, camps receiving federal funding, such as in the form of grants, may be required to comply with these accessibility guidelines in the terms of the grants or contracts. It is recommended that camps constructing new outdoor features or altering existing features consult the developing guidelines from the onset of the planning process and follow them as best practice.

Next Steps

Keeping on top of the scores of standards and regulations can be a daunting task for any camp administrative team. At NCA, we recommend a comprehensive approach to accessibility management. Creating access for people with disabilities is not simply one person in the organization’s job. Everyone must be involved for inclusion of participants with disabilities to be effective and ultimately successful. The accessibility management approach is similar to the risk management approach used by many organizations. One person may be the risk manager or accessibility coordinator, but EVERYONE is responsible for safety and accessibility. NCA recommends the following for implementation of an accessibility management program:

  1. Establish an accessibility team. The team should consist of decision makers across departments from facility management, maintenance, programming, customer service, etc.
  2. Assign an accessibility/inclusion coordinator. This person is responsible for overall coordination of the team and implementation of priorities.
  3. Review policies and procedures. All policies and operating procedures should be reviewed to ensure they do not prohibit participation by people with disabilities. Modifications should be made to policies and procedures to achieve compliance with the ADA regulations.
  4. Conduct an accessibility assessment of existing facilities. Through this assessment process, physical and communication barriers should be identified, along with solutions to improve facility access.
  5. Develop a transition plan. This public document should include a timeline for the removal of barriers and improved access for people with disabilities.
  6. Seek input from people with disabilities. Local disability advocacy groups should be invited to give feedback on the transition plan, solutions, and priorities.
  7. Evaluate progress. Semiannually, at a minimum, the progress on the transition plan should be evaluated and reprioritized, if necessary. In addition, completed barrier removal projects should be evaluated.
  8. Celebrate success. As accessibility improvements are made to programs and facilities, this information should be marketed, shared, and celebrated through publications and social networks. These efforts will further attract and encourage participation by more people with disabilities.

If you have more specific questions on the application of the revised ADA regulations or the 2010 ADA standards, please feel free to contact the National Center on Accessibility.

Additional Resources

National Center on Accessibility:
U.S. Department of Justice:
Revised ADA Regulations Implementing Title II and Title III of the ADA:
Future Accessibility Standards for Outdoor Recreation Areas:
U.S. Access Board:
American Camp Association:
Jennifer K. Skulski is the director of marketing and special projects at the National Center on Accessibility, Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington. She has more than eighteen years of experience conducting training, research, and consultation on the inclusion of people with disabilities in parks, recreation, and tourism.