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Witnesses tell House subcommittee national parks must improve information on disability access

Witnesses tell House subcommittee national parks must improve information on disability access
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Disabled outdoor hobbyists said at a Tuesday hearing of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations that there needs to be more comprehensive information available about accessibility in national parks.

Subcommittee Chair Katie Porter (D-Calif.) said that in addition to physical accessibility for disabled visitors, information about that accessibility is vital to ensure equal access to national parks and trails.

Hearing witnesses also emphasized this barrier, with Mike Passo, executive director of American Trails and a wheelchair user, calling lack of information “the single greatest barrier to accessibility on public lands.”

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“The most effective way to improve access to Federal public lands is to provide clear objective information to the public on what exists,” he testified. “Disability is a spectrum, and no two people experience it the same way. By providing objective details about what a person can expect when they venture into the outdoors, every person can decide for themselves whether a trail or experience meets with their own personal requirements.”

“The park service has done a really great job of improving access but if you go to a smaller park or even one of the bigger ones it’s really hard to find facility information,” Passo added.

He said online information about accessibility was often limited to simply a wheelchair icon, with no further details about, for example, steepness of trails to restrooms. In these cases, he said, visitors are often left to look at photographs of individuals parts of national parks and try to determine accessibility based on that.

Porter separately asked Passo if the federal Recreation.gov website should provide more comprehensive information.

“I think it’d be extremely helpful,” Passo replied. “There is very little information on there [currently] … there’s nothing about trails, essentially.”

Witness Graham Hill, a former member of the National Council on Disability, agreed the lack of detailed information remained a hindrance, and said that some land agencies had taken the standards imposed by the Americans with Disabilities Act as a “ceiling” rather than the minimum.

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Recreation.gov, he testified, is “a great portal” but “does not provide a simple and comprehensive navigation to wheelchair and disabled access information across all of the facilities.” 

“A single ‘one stop shop’ capability for disabled access would improve the accessibility of disabled accessibility information,” he added. “This is also true of the websites of the land agencies.”

Porter agreed that accessibility information and should encompass the full range of disability needs “rather than this binary, wheelchair-no wheelchair, people need a whole range of information to accommodate the whole range of different abilities … this seems like a fixable problem to me.”