2006-02-10 / Columnists

On The Bayfront

By Elisa Hinken New Construction, Renovations Do Not Meet ADA Requirements

By Elisa Hinken
New Construction, Renovations Do Not Meet ADA Requirements

As further proof that New York City Parks and Recreation strives to preserve “status quo” with archaic laws regarding recreational use of our beaches, New York State Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi announced recently the release of audit findings regarding the access of recreational facilities in the City of New York by persons with disabilities.

The audit covered the period from January 1, 2000 through January 19, 2005.

Parks and Recreation has no way of alerting or guiding individuals who need handicapped access to city-owned recreational facilities. No signage, no website, no map. Nada.

While many sites operated by Parks have been upgraded in recent years to improve accessibility for persons with disabilities, other Parks facilities are not accessible even after renovations, and a lack of on-site signage and other information regarding accessible sites increases difficulties for persons with disabilities, the audit found.

Auditors found that the department has not fully met the legal requirements of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and U.S. Department of Justice Rule 28 CFR Part 35.

Parks does not provide adequate information to the public regarding how to find facilities that do meet ADA accessibility requirements and also does not have a required formal process to investigate complaints about accessibility issues.

“New York City’s parks should be open to all. I am pleased that Commissioner Benepe has committed to doing a better job following both the letter and the spirit of laws and regulations that make New York City’s parks accessible to people with disabilities,” Hevesi said.

“Parks & Recreation is committed to meeting or exceeding ADA recommendations in our parks.

For the last four years we have reached out to the disabled community in many areas, and have invited groups, including the United Spinal Association, to advise us on the building and reconstruction of parks and park facilities,” said Commissioner Benepe.

“We look forward to working with the State Comptroller and our non-profit partners to implement these suggestions as part of our commitment to work on behalf of all our visitors, regardless of their abilities.”

U.S. Department of Justice Rule 28 CFR Part 35 requires identification of accessibility barriers in existing facilities, needed modifications and a timetable for making the changes.

Auditors determined that Parks did not meet these requirements and that the agency’s policy was that accessibility standards would be met only in new construction and major alteration projects, although the department has not defined what constitutes a “major alternation.”

Auditors reviewed a sample of 50 new Parks construction projects to see whether ADA accessibility requirements had been included in the department’s scope of work document, which provides a general description of the project and helps to guide the actual design process.

Twenty-nine of the projects included no specific plans to address ADA-accessibility requirements and some of the projects did not have accessibility elements.

At the Queens County Farmhouse, for example, the scope document failed to note needed work on an access ramp. Moreover, the ramp was not accessible for wheelchair users because it could only be reached by crossing a grassy area.

At the Gorman Playground in Queens, a $654,000 playground renovation project did not include converting restrooms for ADA accessibility. However, auditors did find that ADA-accessibility elements were included in some projects even though they were not noted on the scope documents.

While there is no requirement that all Parks facilities be ADA-accessible, the department is required to help the public locate those that are accessible. In visits to 50 Parks facilities, auditors found no signage indicating accessibility or directing users to ADA-accessible entrances. Ideally, signage should also direct persons with disabilities away from potentially hazardous conditions.

At Riverside Park, for example, auditors found that there was no posted information regarding excessive slopes, steps and stairways.

Auditors recommended that Parks enhance information on its website regarding accessibility, because information on the site was not always complete.

The department agreed with all of the recommendations in the audit, and said that it would take steps to implement them.

The complete response is included in the audit.

The New York City Department of Parks & Recreation has some 4,000 facilities including playgrounds, athletic fields, tennis courts, swimming pools, recreation centers and beaches, and encompassing 28,700 acres.

Its facilities include Central Park in Manhattan, Prospect Park in Brooklyn and the Bronx Zoo.

The department’s capital budget was about $406 million in fiscal year 2003 and $465 million in 2004.

When will Parks and Benepe wake up? This audit provides further proof that beach access laws, for both the able and disabled are poorly devised, needs updating and realistically, fairly implemented.

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