Recreation: New Standards Foster Inclusion

The long, warm days of summer are upon us, inviting us to shake off the sluggish season and hit the park, the pier, or the playground. This year marks the second summer since the new ADA Standards for Accessible Design went into effect. The ADA Standards (the “2010 Standards”) contain new sections on recreational facilities, including amusement rides, boating and fishing facilities, golf and miniature golf courses, shooting facilities, children’s playgrounds, exercise facilities, and swimming pools, wading pools, and spas.

As the new requirements come into play and are applied to construction and alterations projects, or used by state and local government agencies or private businesses to improve access to programs and facilities, we will see more and more opportunities for inclusive recreational activities.

Here is a brief overview of some of the highlights of these new requirements.

Amusement Rides

  • roller coasterOnly amusement rides that are installed permanently or long-term (such as those in theme parks) are subject to the requirements; mobile or portable rides (like those in traveling carnivals, fairs, etc.) are exempt
  • Accessible rides include:

    • An accessible route to and from “load and unload” areas where people get on and off the ride, and enough space at those points for people using wheelchairs or other mobility devices to turn around
    • A wheelchair space (clear space for an individual to board and ride in his own wheelchair), or an amusement ride seat designed for transfer (an individual can move directly from her wheelchair to the amusement ride seat), or a transfer device (some type of equipment to move a person from a wheelchair to and from an amusement ride seat)
  • Some amusement rides only have to offer an accessible route to/from and turning space at load/unload points, but do not have to provide boarding, seating, or riding features for people who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices; these types of rides include:

    • Rides that are controlled or operated by the rider (such as bumper cars and go-carts)
    • Rides designed specifically for children, where children are assisted in getting on and off by adults; these “kiddie” rides are often small in scale
    • Rides that do not have seats (like the traditional “Round Up,” on which people stand)

Boating Facilities

  • Boat slips are portions of fixed or floating piers that are used for berthing, or for getting on and off boats; recreational boating facilities that offer boat slips must provide a number of accessible slips according to a table:

Total Number of Boat Slips in Facility

Minimum Number of Required Accessible Boat Slips

1 – 25


26 – 50


51 – 100


101 – 150


151 – 300


301 – 400


401 – 500


501 – 600


601 – 700


701 – 800


801 – 900


901 – 1000


1001 or more

12, plus 1 for every 100,
or fraction thereof, over 1000

  • Accessible boat slips are connected to accessible routes and provide sufficient maneuvering space for individuals using mobility devices to turn around or use transfer devices, if necessary, to get on and off their boats
  • If different types of boat slips are available, accessible slips must be dispersed among the various types; long- or short-term berthing (including fueling piers), shallow or deep-water slips, and covered or uncovered slips are examples of different types
  •  If gangways are used to connect floating boat piers to the land or to a fixed structure, exceptions may allow longer runs and steeper slopes than those allowed on typical ramps

    • Slopes should not exceed 1:12 where possible, but gangways do not have to be longer than 80 feet, or, in facilities with fewer than 25 boat slips, gangways do not have to be longer than 30 feet
    • “Resting” platforms (level platforms required on typical ramps at intervals for every 30 inches of rise) are not required on gangways

Fishing Piers or Platforms

  • fishing rodsRequirements apply to facilities designed and intended for fishing, not structures intended for other purposes but where people may fish (for example, a sea wall constructed to prevent beach erosion would not be subject to the requirements for fishing facilities, even if people are allowed to fish from the sea wall)
  • Accessible fishing piers or platforms must be served by an accessible route and include sufficient space for an individual using a wheelchair to turn around
  • If gangways are used to connect floating fishing piers or platforms to the land or to a fixed structure, gangway slopes should not exceed 1:12 where possible, but gangways do not have to be longer than 30 feet

Golf Courses

  • Most golfers who use wheelchairs or other mobility aids will not take such devices on the course, but will use motorized golf cars; some golf cars are designed with accessibility features, such as seats that swivel and tilt to allow an individual to play from a seated position

    • Requirements for accessible routes are modified to accommodate people using golf cars throughout a golf course and related areas such as bag drops, weather shelters, or practice greens

      • Golf car passages and accessible routes must be at least 48 inches wide (rather than the 36-inch width generally required on an accessible route)
      • Weather shelters must include a clear space of at least 60 by 96 inches to accommodate a golf car

Miniature Golf Courses

  • Course entrance, exit, and accessible holes must be connected by an accessible route; the accessible route can be either on the playing surface, adjacent to the playing surface, or a combination of the two

    • Some moderate exceptions are allowed for slopes, ramp landings, and handrails along the accessible route, as well as low curbs at any point the accessible route intersects the playing surface
    • A golfer must be able to exit the course after the final accessible hole without backtracking through other holes
  • At least 50% of the holes must be accessible and must be consecutive

    • One break in the sequence is permitted if the final hole in the sequence is the last hole in the course
  • Accessible holes must include:

    • A clear, level space at least 48 by 60 inches at the start of play
    • “Golf club reach range” (any place the ball may come to rest in the hole must be within 36 inches of a clear space that is at least 36 by 48 inches in size, with a slope no greater than 1:20 (5%), and connected to an accessible route)

Swimming Pools, Wading Pools, and Spas

  • Accessible routes are required throughout swimming and aquatic recreation facilities, but are not required to serve raised diving boards, platforms, or water slides (although there must be an accessible route to the edge of a catch pool at the bottom of a slide)
  • An accessible means of entry into the water is required at swimming pools, wading pools, wave action pools, leisure rivers, and spas

    • There are five means of providing access into these various types of bodies of water – pool lifts, sloped entries, transfer walls, transfer systems, and accessible stairs; the means used depends on the type of body of water

      • Small swimming pools (less than 300 feet of linear pool wall) must provide either a pool lift or a sloped entry (some sloped entries look very much like traditional ramps, others, often called “zero-depth” entries, are usually broad, gradual slopes designed to mimic a natural shoreline)
      • Larger swimming pools (300 or more feet of linear pool wall) must provide two means of entry, one of which must be either a pool lift or a sloped entry; the other can be any one of the five types
      • Wading pools must provide a sloped entry
      • Wave action, leisure river, or other types of pools where entry is limited to one area must provide either a pool lift, a sloped entry, or a transfer system
      • Spas must provide either a pool lift, a transfer wall, or a transfer system (where spas are provided in a cluster, only 5% must be accessible)

Play Areas

  • Understanding definitions is crucial to planning accessible playgrounds

    • A “play component” is an “element intended to generate specific opportunities for play, socialization, or learning” (play components may be manufactured or natural, and they may stand alone or be combined to create composite play structures)
    • A “ground level play component” is one that is “approached and exited at the ground level” (for example, a free-standing slide is a ground level play component because children approach it and get off of it – or are discharged from it – at ground level)
    • An “elevated play component” is one that is “approached above or below grade and that is part of a composite play structure consisting of two or more play components attached or functionally linked to create an integrated unit providing more than one play activity”
    • rubberized playground surface with hopscotch pattern in contrasting colorA “use zone” is the ground surface where children circulate around play equipment or would land when they exit or fall from play equipment (playground surfaces in use zones must be impact attenuating to reduce the risk of injuries)
  • Playgrounds for children must include accessible routes connecting accessible play components; ground level accessible routes in play areas are generally wider than accessible routes in other environments, and ground level ramps are less steep than typical ramps

    • Complex scoping provisions dictate the numbers and types of play components that must be connected by accessible routes; accessible routes connect entry and exit points of accessible play components

      • Generally, at least one of each type of ground level play component must be on an accessible route; the “type” of a play component is determined by the experience it is designed to provide (for example, rocking, swinging, climbing, sliding)
      • Where elevated play components are provided, at least some of them must be connected by an accessible route, which may include ramps or transfer systems; in larger playgrounds (those with 20 or more elevated components) at least some of the elevated components must be connected by ramps
      • Ramp segments connecting elevated play components must not rise more than 12 inches (much less than typical ramp segments, which may rise as much as 30 inches)

Exercise Facilities

  • woman lifting weights in fitness facilityFacilities that provide exercise and fitness machines or equipment must ensure that at least one of each type are connected to an accessible route and provide a clear floor space positioned so that an individual using a wheelchair or other mobility device can either use the equipment or transfer to it

    • There may be many “types” of exercise machines that are designed to provide a similar benefit; for example, stationary bicycles, rowing machines, stair climbers, and treadmills all provide cardiovascular exercise, but each is considered a different type

Shooting Facilities

  • Shooting facilities with firing positions must provide a clear, level, circular ground space at least 60 inches in diameter at a minimum of 5% of each type of firing position

Sports Facilities

  • Although the 2010 ADA Standards don’t include a separate section for sports facilities, a variety of types (such as basketball or tennis courts, skating rinks, and baseball fields) are addressed through requirements for accessible routes to areas of sport activities and team/player seating serving such areas

    • The accessible route must serve both sides of a court (for example, tennis or volleyball courts)
    • An accessible route must serve at least 5% of the lanes in a bowling facility
  • Areas where sports are actually played do not have to be accessible; for example, there should be an accessible route to the edge of a soccer field, but the surface of the field itself can still be grass
  • There are exceptions for raised boxing and wrestling rings, raised structures used solely for refereeing, judging, or scoring, and animal containment areas that are not for public use

Of course, ancillary facilities and elements that serve recreational spaces, such as drinking fountains or locker rooms, as well as facilities for spectators, must meet relevant Standards.

These are just a few highlights and examples of the new provisions related to recreational facilities and spaces. For additional information, consult the materials and resources below or contact us (1-800-949-4232 V/TTY).


U.S. Department of Justice
2010 ADA Standards and Guidance

Access Board’s “Summaries of Accessibility Guidelines for Recreational Facilities”; included are separate guides on amusement rides, boating facilities, fishing piers and platforms, golf courses, miniature golf courses, sporting facilities, swimming pools and spas, and play areas

This is a publication of the Mid-Atlantic ADA Center funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research of the U.S. Dept. of Ed. (Grant # H133A060085). The opinions contained in this publication are those of the grantee and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Education.

© 2013 TransCen, Inc.