According to the ADA, people with disabilities have the right to participate in public park and recreation services. Important gains in their access to activities of their choosing since the ADA was written into law, in part due to individuals being able to request reasonable accommodations. The purpose of this study was to understand the perspectives of people with disabilities who participate in public park and recreation services on whether their accommodation needs are met and if they are effective in facilitating meaningful recreation experiences. Participants reported requesting reasonable accommodations was a way to exercise civil rights and gain access to meaningful recreation activities. They also reported a duality in requesting accommodations in that they were met with confusion, lack of understanding, and reluctance. It is recommended that the park and recreation profession undergo a paradigm shift and embrace making reasonable accommodations as an important professional skill.

According to the ADA, people with disabilities have the right to participate in services and gain benefits of all public park and recreation services. In addition, access to public recreation and parks is important for the physical, social, and mental health of all people. Important gains in inclusion of individuals with disabilities in public park and recreation services have been made since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was written into law in 1990 (PL 101-336; ADA). Gains in access to these places and services can be attributed to legal decisions, a shift in service delivery philosophy, and to a new generation of leisure services providers and consumers (Spencer-Cavaliere & Watkinson, 2010). While the gains are important to note and recognize, do they meet the accommodation needs of individuals with disabilities? Do the accommodations yield meaningful recreation experiences? The purpose of this study was to understand the perspectives of people with disabilities who participate in public park and recreation services or use facilities on whether their accommodation needs are met based on the parameters of reasonable accommodation as defined in Title II of the ADA.

Literature Review

The World Health Organization (WHO) encourages all to engage in regular physical activity to maintain lifelong health and quality of life. However, approximately 12% of adults aged 18-64 years have a disability, and nearly half are inactive creating a disparity in the participation rates in leisure engagement for persons with disabilities (Rimmer, Riley, Wang, Rauworth, & Jurkowski, 2004). This is problematic because it contributes to lower quality of life, increases social isolation, limits functional independence, and increases the likelihood of secondary conditions of disability (Carroll, Courtney-Long, Stevens, Sloan, Lullo, Visser, Fox, Armour, Campbell, V.A., Brown, Dorn, 2014). On the other hand, recreation engagement can play a role of the lives of all people including those with disabilities in promoting quality of life, self-expression, participation in personally valued activities, healthy active living, creating a sense of belonging, and socially connecting with others. One means that has aided greater access to recreation options is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA 1990; 2008).

Access to recreation, park, and tourism services by individuals with disabilities has been driven by the ADA, research, advocacy on the part of individuals with disabilities and others, and a willingness of park and recreation professionals to meet the needs of these customers (Devine & Kotowski, 1999; Jones, 2003/2004; Klitzing & Wachter, 2005). Public, non-profit and for profit sectors of the park, recreation, and tourism industry have been required to comply with the ADA since its inception. While all are required to comply with the ADA, public recreation and park organizations have an increased obligation given their public funding base.

Title II of the ADA requires public park and recreation organizations to make reasonable accommodations and outlines parameters of those accommodations. Specifically, Title II "protects qualified individuals with disabilities from discrimination on the basis of disability in services, programs, and activities provided by state and local government entities." http://www.ada.gov/ada_title_II.htm This title also stipulates that state and local government organizations can't "exclude individuals with qualified disabilities from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity." http://www.ada.gov/regs2010/titleII_2010/titleII_2010_regulations.htm#title2regs . In essence, public park and recreation organizations must make reasonable accommodations by providing meaningful access, aids and services, equal opportunity in recreation and park services, areas, buildings and features within built and natural environments to qualified individual with disabilities. Reasonable accommodations are defined in the ADA as modifications or adjustments that enable qualified individuals with disabilities to participate in services, programs, or activities and benefit from services; modifications or adjustments that enable individuals with disabilities to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of services, programs or activities; and modifications or adjustments needed to provide equal access to technology and information http://www.ada.gov/regs2010/titleII_2010/titleII_2010_regulations.pdf . Previous studies have aided park and recreation organizations in compliance with providing reasonable accommodation under Title II of the ADA. However, what is not known is the effectiveness of these organizations in making meaningful accommodations so individuals with disabilities can enjoy the benefits of recreation engagement.

Klitzing and Wachter (2005) examined structure, process, and outcome variables of best practices in providing accommodations in public recreation and park practices. Examining the practices of award winning Special Recreation Agencies (SRA) in Illinois, they set out to determine benchmarks for the public park and recreation industry. They analyzed practices and outcome measures (e.g., number of participants with disabilities as percentage of total service population) to identify effective accommodation strategies. Specifically they examined structure characteristics (resources and organizational structure used in service delivery), and process characteristics (types of recreation services provided and accommodation strategies used). Klitzing and Wachter reported all agencies employed full, and part time staff with at least one staff member being a certified therapeutic recreation specialist (CTRS). Agencies served preschoolers through older adults and a wide range of disability groups. Each agency provided a range of service options to individuals with disabilities (i.e., segregated-inclusive), extensive staff and volunteer training, used various accommodation strategies (i.e., adaptive equipment, inclusion companions, cooperative activities), and several methods of program evaluation (i.e., participant/parent surveys, telephone interviews). They identified useful best practices in providing accommodations. Specifically, the range of service options for people with disabilities, extensive training for staff, and the use of multiple accommodation strategies were useful to meet the accommodation needs of people with disabilities. While this study was instrumental in examining practices for service provision to individuals with disabilities, the strategies provided were from the staff's perspective only. They were also from award winning agencies making it unclear as to the widespread use of these practices.

Building on the research of others (e.g., Devine & McGovern, 2001; Klitzing & Wachter, 2005), Schleien, Miller, and Shea (2009) examined best practices of park and recreation agencies in providing accommodations for individuals with disabilities to engage in recreation services. Researchers first identified agencies (N = 15) that were perceived to be leaders in the field of inclusive recreation service provision. Data were collected using a semi-structured interview guide conducted with an administrator or inclusion specialist. Using a constant comparison methodology to analyze data, Schleien and colleagues found that administrators were key players in the agency's effectiveness in making reasonable accommodations and the development of inclusive services. Specifically, a key practice was designating it as a priority in service delivery and communicating that priority in all agency business. Another important finding was the designation of a staff person to facilitate making accommodations and organizing inclusive services. Respondents also emphasized the importance of conducting training with all staff on making reasonable accommodations and principles of inclusive practices. While most of the agency facilities were accessible and inclusion facilitators were aware of ADA regulations, they found a need to be very proactive in ensuring accessibility for future buildings areas. Schleien et al. found that funding for inclusive services continues to be a problem even for the best of agencies, but reported that agencies who adopt promising practices have allocated funding for accommodations and adaptive equipment. Schleien et al. concluded that specific fundaments to providing inclusive services are necessary, but for fundamental practices to be in place, a recreation agency must have a vision to welcome and accommodate all community members in services.

Devine (2012) conducted a nationwide study with park and recreation administrators to identify barriers and best practices in compliance with Title II of the ADA. This study examined barriers to making reasonable accommodations so individuals with disabilities could be included in recreation and park services, and ways in which organizations are responding to the barriers. A random sample of administrators of public park and recreation organizations across the United States participated in a survey regarding barriers they have experienced when making reasonable accommodations. The respondents were also asked to identify barriers and ways in which they addressed the barriers. Respondents (N=761) indicated that they experienced few administrative barriers (e.g., policies, administrative support) with the exception of financial barriers and staff who are knowledgeable in making reasonable accommodations. It was recommended that organizations use non-traditional means to fund inclusive services and provide training for staff so they understand principles and legal mandates related to reasonable accommodations and compliance with the ADA. While administrators perceived that there were few barriers encountered relative to making reasonable accommodations, the experiences and perspectives of individuals with disabilities is unknown relative to this aspect of Title II of the ADA.

Some gains have been made in the public park and recreation field in making reasonable accommodations since ADA written into law, the perspectives on these gains are primarily from the professional instead of the participant perspective. Some studies have included voice of individuals with disabilities relative to their experiences in inclusive recreation services, but more are needed as it is important to know and understand whether accommodation needs are being met. Also it is important to understand if accommodations are effectiveness to yielding meaningful recreation experiences. Thus the purpose of this study was to understand the perspectives of people with disabilities who participate in public park and recreation services or use facilities on whether their accommodation needs are met and if they are effective in facilitating meaningful recreation experiences.


A qualitative investigation using focus groups was conducted to best understand the perspectives of individuals with disabilities on Title II accommodations. Criteria for participation in this study included: (a) must have a disability in which an accommodation was needed for recreation engagement, (b) be age 18 or over, and (c) must have participated in a public recreation activity or service within 6 months prior to participation in the focus group, or (d) must have used a public park or recreation facility. Recruitment was conducted through centers for independent living, disability related support groups and organizations, local park and recreation organizations, and university student accessibility services in four cities in different geographic locations throughout the United States. Invitations were distributed via electronic means (e-mail, web site, social media) through each of these groups and organizations. People with various disabilities were welcomed to participate to gain a broad understanding of perspectives. Interested participants were instructed to contact the researcher via electronic mail or telephone and at that time were screened for study criteria.

Focus groups (N = 7) were conducted in Chicago (n = 2), Tampa (n=1), Denver (n = 2), and Baltimore (n = 2) to gain a cross section of geographical perspectives using an interview guide to facilitate discussions. Each focus group included between 5-7 participants. The interview guide (see Table 1) included eight questions and three sub-questions based on (a) a review of ADA Title II complaint findings for public park and recreation agencies, (b) ADA Title II guidelines for reasonable accommodations, and (c) best practice guidelines published in referred studies (Devine, 2012; Klitzing & Wachter, Scholl et al., Schelein, Miller). Participants (N=43) included males (n = 20) and females (n = 23) with mobility (n = 20), visual (n = 10), hearing (n = 8), and intellectual (n = 5) disabilities. They ranged in ages of 18-57, represented a variety of socio-economic groups, and ethnicities/races. Each focus group session was conducted by the researcher and lasted from 60-75 minutes. They began with providing participants with the definition of reasonable accommodations as defined by the ADA. Each session was electronically recorded, transcribed verbatim, and session notes were taken by a research assistant.

Table 1

Guided Focus Group Questions

  1. Tell me about the activities, services, or facilities you use that are publicly funded. By publically funded I mean tax funding through local, county, state, or national means.
  2. What accommodations do you need/request?
  3. What are the ways you request accommodations?
    1. What has been response from staff to accommodations asked for?
  4. Did you receive the accommodations you requested or needed?
  5. In what ways did the accommodations meet your needs or not?
  6. What did you do if the accommodations didn't meet your needs to participate in what you were there to do?
  7. Do you/when do you raise the legal issues of reasonable accommodations to meet your needs?
  8. How did you view or perceive these accommodations?
    1. Did the accommodations allow you to have an enjoyable recreation experience?
    2. Was the experience meaningful to and valued by you?

Data Analysis

Data analysis was conducted using qualitative and Grounded Theory methods.18,19 The research goal was to conclude with an explanation of the experiences of the research participants rather than begin the study with a hypothesis. Methods enabled the researcher to identify patterns, behaviors, and experiences of the research participants from the data. Grounded Theory provided the framework for constant comparison of emerging themes and patterns. The themes and patterns were then compared to participant experiences to frame results theoretically. Analysis of data was conducted to verify accuracy of themes and concepts until consensus was achieved. Data were analyzed in four stages by the researcher and two assistants. First, transcripts were read, then coded line-by-line, examining the data for themes. Third, initial coding was examined to identify concepts and themes across participants. Last, categories of similar concepts were created to generate a theory.

Trustworthiness, as it relates to reliability and validity of the data, is always an issue worthy of addressing in qualitative inquiries. As guided questions were developed and data gathered, the researcher and assistants acknowledged and reflected on their bias. During data analysis, the researcher and assistants discussed accuracy of themes, verifying emerging themes with data until consensus was achieved. Credibility of findings using member checks was accomplished with research participants via telephone calls and electronic mail correspondence. Feedback and additional comments from research participants was used as additional data (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). A researcher not associated with this study was used to examine and confirm the data analysis process, codes, and categories produced through data analysis (Guba & Lincoln, 1985). The resulting analysis was agreed upon with this triangulation of analysis via the researcher's interpretation, member checks from the research participants, and outside researcher.


The purpose of this study was to understand the perspectives of people with disabilities who participate in public park and recreation services or use facilities on whether their accommodation needs are met and if they are effective in facilitating meaningful recreation experiences. Participants discussed activities they liked to do in their free time, reasonable accommodations they requested, accommodations that were useful, common barriers they encountered related to asking for reasonable accommodations, and the role Title II of the ADA played relative to their recreation experiences. Overall, a theme of exercising their rights was central reasonable accommodations for all research participants. This theme centered on meeting their needs, creating a meaningful experience, and addressing disparities. Two categories of this theme emerged relative to the meaningfulness of the experience and receiving accommodations needed, leveling the playing field and double edge sword. In addition, participants indicated the ADA was a useful tool to base accommodations requests, however felt that few professionals in this field were aware of the ADA, and how the law related to reasonable accommodations.

Research participants began by discussing activities in which they sought participation (see Table 2) which varied from social, to educational/hobbies, to physically active. They then were asked to describe typical accommodations they requested to do these activities. Accommodations ranged from large print material, adapted sport equipment, extra space for wheelchairs, accessible hike and bike trails, accessible pools to name a few (see Table 3).

Table 2

Sample of Recreation Activities of Research Participants
Social Physically Active Arts Travel Hobbies Outdoor
Card clubs Swimming painting Day trips Bird watching hiking
Walking club Weight lifting sculpting Camping trips Photography canoeing
Book club Running Drama/theater programs   Flower arranging kayaking
Garden club Walking Poetry writing   Cooking/baking Cycling on bike trails
Concerts Yoga Creative writing   Living history Living history
Special Events (e.g., art festivals) Dance exercise        
  Indoor climbing wall        
  Team or partner sports        

Exercising Rights

An overall theme, exercising their rights, emerged and centered on the participants' view that it was their civil right to not only request an accommodation, but have it implemented to yield a valued and meaningful leisure experience. Some focus group discussions began with a pre-post ADA comparison of requesting and having reasonable accommodations fulfilled. These discussions were primarily from those who were older than 30 years and had life experiences, prior to the ADA, where they were excluded from inclusive recreation participation or had only segregated recreation options available from which to choose. For instance, participants in Tampa focus groups indicated that they appreciated being able to request accommodations to engage in recreation activities with companions without disabilities. A man with a spinal cord injury said he loved to swim, and said, "prior to the ADA I could only swim during 'handicapped' swim time, not just any time I wanted to swim or when my friends swam." Woman with blindness, stated "I love going to the plays that our local Players Guild puts on at the rec[reation] center and having an audio [described performance]available when there's no dialog between actors. When I was growing up, that wasn't an option. My mom or sister would have to do that and people all around us would be 'shushing' them." In the Baltimore focus group, a participant who had cerebral palsy, was an avid bird watcher. He recalled, pre ADA, having few options where he could access trails in parks or at beaches to bird watch, nor could he join bird watching groups because they weren't accessible. He stated, "Now, I can go to just about any park and wheel around a good number of trails and at some parks go deep into the park to see the birds. I can go with the bird [watching] group by letting them know ahead of time so they go on accessible trails. "

During several focus group discussions, there was a notable paradigm shift in the sentiment expressed among participants who compared pre-post ADA. Specifically, they stated that when the ADA was first written into law they were grateful for the opportunity to request accommodations, but now they viewing it as a right to which they are entitled. Approximately 22 of the 27 research participants who were over the age of 30 discussed how they used to accept any type of accommodation or recreation opportunity no matter how useful or whether it resulted in a meaningful experience. Now, they ask for and seek accommodations that are specific to their disability, yield a valued experience, and allow them to participate in an inclusive manner. Some research participants discussed how life for them is undeniably different from those without disabilities, but felt that their right to access public recreation opportunities was the same. A woman in the Denver group expressed a viewed shared by many others,

In the past I was a workaholic mostly because it was one the most accessible environments for me. Then I discovered a number of recreation activities I love and really discovered myself. I never had the opportunity to play tennis, or go hiking because they weren't accessible, they weren't even options. So, now I scream accessibility from the mountain tops. I ask and expect that [local recreation department] will accommodate my needs.

Research participants 30 years old or younger had a different view on accommodations in that they expect that accommodations would be made upon request, as that has been the majority of their life experience. Participants in all the focus groups who were younger than 30 years old predominantly expressed the idea that recreation activities they engaged in were an important part of their lives and expected accommodations to be useful and meaningful. A man with an intellectual disability in the Tampa focus group said,

I like to lift weights. It helps me to stay healthy and feel good. People are supposed to help me if I need it. I don't need much help, but if I don't get help some times to lift weights it's no good. If I can't lift my weights I don't feel good.

A woman with blindness in the Denver group was an avid hiker in the local and national parks in her state. She always hiked with friends or family and liked to know the details of various trails prior to hiking. She would ask park rangers to describe the trails in great detail and stated, "it never occurred to me to not ask them to describe the trail or that they wouldn't do it. In fact I sometimes ask them to hike with us to point things out. I'm not asking them for help that's unreasonable." A man with a spinal cord injury from the Baltimore focus group said that he likes to go to concerts. He said that all the concerts that are in his public parks are accessible including portable restrooms, parking and seating areas and he has not been to one that is not accessible. He added, "it doesn't mean it's always easy to get to an area to hear the band or that I don't have to wheel a distance to the toilet, but why wouldn't it be accessible? I pay my taxes too."

Another thread of the exercising rights theme included gaining or benefitting from the recreation experience. Specifically, many research participants pointed out that it was important to be active participants in a program, not simply a spectator. Reasonable accommodations created the context for meaningful experiences. For instance, some discussed the benefits their local public recreation and park organizations claim from participation and usage and felt that they deserved the opportunity for these valued experiences. A woman with a spinal cord injury in the Chicago focus group noted that growing up she had few if any recreation options and it frustrated her; she now sees it as her right to have the opportunity to actively participate in her preferred activities. Another participant in the same group acknowledged that he needs to communicate the accommodations he needs in advance, and noted that when they were done at a level that met his needs, the recreation experience was beneficial. Almost all focus group participants indicate that they raised the legal issue of the ADA and making reasonable accommodations only when they were met with significant resistance from staff at the parks or recreation departments.

Leveling the playing field

A category that emerged under the theme of exercising rights centered on the ways in which accommodations created options and opportunities for recreation engagement. Some participants referred to it as 'leveling the playing field' or providing similar opportunities as afforded to their peers without disabilities. This was most important to having meaningful recreation experiences. A woman in the Tampa focus group discussed how an accommodation made it possible for her to participate in photography class with her daughter and that it was an enjoyable experience for both of them. Some participants discussed that accommodations were a way to create an experience that was of their choosing and that they valued. Specifically, accommodations were a way to engage in activities and programs that enhanced their quality of life. One man in the Denver group stated that when he was growing up there were few recreation choices and the ones that were available were segregated (designed only for individuals with disabilities) or were activities in which he was not interested. He stated, "So, I do things now that I can do along with friends or family, because I'm all about doing things with others. If I can't do things with other I just don't see any point in doing them."

Almost all participants discussed ways in which recreation engagement required a great deal of planning on their part, particularly with making sure facilities were physically accessible, taking care of personal needs, and giving recreation organizations adequate notice for accommodation needs. One woman in the Baltimore focus group who used a wheelchair discussed how she would have to think of every step of the activity from the time she left her home until the time she returned to be sure she thought of all accommodations she would need. She said, "It is a lot of work for me to think it all through, but I need to if I want to participate in my book group." They noted that this pre-planning was necessary to ensure they had their needs met so they could have access to similar if not the same opportunities to participate in their chosen activities. Therefore, reasonable accommodations were the way to have access to recreation options that were readily available to peers without disabilities.

Participants didn't all have the same experience in requesting accommodations when discussing the notion of leveling the playing field. Those who had hearing impairments and needed a sign language interpreter experienced more resistance than others and they assumed it was related to the cost of this accommodation. Two participants who were deaf, one in Tampa and one in Baltimore, stated that they were told that if they wanted a sign language interpreter, they would have to pay for the service, a violation of Title II of the ADA. One woman with an intellectual disability, who was in the Denver focus group, said that the instructor of the dance class she was enrolled in became very frustrated with having to repeat the dance steps so she could learn them and told her, "you are slowing down the class too much." Approximately one-half of the participants with mobility impairments, across all focus groups, discussed the lack of knowledge of the park and recreation staff on issues related to accommodations and indicated that it created a significant barrier.

Double Edged Sword

A second category that emerged under the theme of exercising rights demonstrated the duality of reasonable accommodations. More than half of the research participants discussed how the ADA was a double edged sword in that felt it was their right to seek accommodations, but it also made them reluctant as they experienced a variety of barriers in doing so. In particular, when they asked for accommodations, park and recreation staff responded with fear, confusion, defensiveness, or resistance. Some participants speculated that the responses were due to a lack of knowledge and others felt that it was due to negative attitudes. One Chicago participant who used a wheelchair said,

I need more space so I can wheel between the weight machines. When I asked that the machines be spaced further apart, one staff member said that it was not possible. When I asked why, he said that it would take too much staff time to do it. I pointed out that it only has to be done once; they don't have to move the machines back on a daily basis. It doesn't exactly make one feel welcomed.

Another participant from the Baltimore group who had a visual impairment stated that she let her recreation center know that she needed to ride a tandem bike on an up-coming day-long bike trip; the staff person responded that they didn't have any tandem bikes so she would have to bring one plus a partner to ride with her. A woman with a hearing impairment from the Tampa group wanted to attend a day trip sponsored by the recreation department, to an art museum. She asked the recreation staff person to reserve an assistive listening device for her at the museum and was met with confusion, "I told her to 'forget it' and did it myself." When probed as to when they raised the issue of the ADA, several participants responded that they only did it if requests were denied or met with resistance. According to a woman in the Chicago group, "I only play the ADA card when I get 'push-back' from the staff. I want them to accommodate me because I need these changes to exercise, not because a law tells them they have to do it, so it's a last resort for me." In all of the focus groups most participants agree that the ADA is useful for getting in the door and if it wasn't for the ADA they would not be able to access and use these public facilities or services. However, they noted that park and recreation staff 'spooked' when the ADA is raised relative to accommodations. Some participants expressed a degree of stress in asking for accommodations. One man in the Baltimore group said, "I get nervous asking for even a simple accommodation. All those years of being told 'no, we can't do that' sort of rear's up in my mind when I ask for it [accommodation]." Several people in the Denver, Chicago and Baltimore focus groups expressed that a recent change to Title II of the ADA of having a designated point person to address accessibility and accommodation needs and questions was particularly useful as having one person they knew they could go to made the process easier and less stressful.


Public park and recreation services are, by nature, designed to include all community members in programs, services, and facilities as well as benefits from programs and services. The role of these services in society is an important one because they promote healthy active living, social inclusion, and a strong sense of community. Reasonable accommodations make it possible for individuals with disabilities to be active members of their communities and experience the benefits of park and recreation services. Thus, the purpose of this study was to understand the perspectives of people with disabilities who participate in public park and recreation services or use facilities on whether their accommodation needs are met and if they are effective in facilitating meaningful recreation experiences.

The common theme that ran through all focus groups was the notion that reasonable accommodations were a means to exercise their civil right to inclusion and engagement in public park and recreation services. Leisure, as an important component of the human experience, is a moral obligation of society (Sylvester, 1992). According to Sylvester, "All human beings, including those individuals with disabilities, illnesses, or limiting conditions have a right to, and need for, leisure involvement as a necessary aspect of the human experience"(p. 10). This means that every human being, regardless of race, ability, or disabling condition should have the opportunity to choose to participate within a wide range of leisure activities (Farrington & Farrington, 2005). Many of the participants of this study viewed requesting reasonable accommodations as a way to exercise their rights to access park and recreation services. They were regular participants in these services and expressed the importance of being able to participate in activities of their choosing. Additionally, they expressed the importance of reasonable accommodations to access various park and recreation opportunities. The ADA set the stage for individuals with disabilities to engage in services provided by private and public recreation organizations. While this study examined services related to public organizations, it should be noted that it is every human's civil right to engage in the pursuit of happiness through leisure, but it cannot be achieved if social oppression and exclusion are present. Rights cannot be practiced if opportunity does not exist.

One way to increase rights to public recreation and park services is by framing the delivery system in tenants of social justice. Social justice is founded on tenets of respect, dignity, & equal opportunity. The basis for each of these tenets is the opportunity for valuable and valid life experiences (Silva & Howe, 2012). In this study, participants discussed not only having the opportunity to participate in recreational experiences of their choosing, but ones that they valued. They viewed reasonable accommodations as the means to gain access to something that has been available to those without disabilities. According to parameters of social justice, individuals with disabilities should have the right to opportunities that aid in meeting their needs (Silva & Howe). This parameter of social justice relates to systemic changes, such as the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that can be the foundation of making reasonable accommodations. In other words, if public park and recreation organizations based reasonable accommodations on the tenants of social justice then it may result in not only a meaningful experience for the participant with the disability, but a systemic change in the industry.

A category of the civil rights theme is the duality of requesting reasonable accommodations where the lack of knowledge park and recreation professionals had relative to the ADA, how to make reasonable accommodations, and the lack of understanding that accommodations needed to be individualized. An obvious recommendation is to promote training for staff so they understand their role in meeting the mandates of the ADA, the need for individualized accommodations, and principles of accommodations. However, beyond training is the need to facilitate a professional paradigm shift where park and recreation professionals view this knowledge base as essential to promote meaningful leisure experiences. In other words, understanding parameters of reasonable accommodations should be a valued knowledge and skill base for all park and recreation professionals to effectively provide park and recreation services. Another recommendation is to actively engage individuals with disabilities in decision making capacities such as establishing consumer boards to guide them in making accommodations, meeting the mandates of the ADA, and creating a more inclusive and accessible environment for all. The ADA needs to be viewed and used as a useful tool and guide to increasing use of public park and recreation facilities and services by people with disabilities not a source of consternation or fear. When designing parks or recreation facilities, professionals could use principles of universal design to make the environment accessible for all. While these findings are related to public accommodation of park and recreation services, recommendations may be generalizable to other public accommodation contexts.

While research participant accommodation needs varied according to their disability and leisure interests (see Table 3), they also varied based on age. Those who were younger than 30 years had different life experiences relative to rights, access, and opportunities related to leisure than their peers over the age of 30. In particular, those under the age of 24 do not know life without the ADA which raises the question, what are their expectation relative to park and recreation access, choices, inclusion, and exercising their rights to engagement and experiencing the benefits of services? Having grown up with the ability to exercise rights not available to those older than them, individuals with disabilities under the age of 30 might be influential in driving a paradigm shift for the public park and recreation industry to view reasonable accommodations as an essential professional skills. A movement such as this may have carry-over into other industries such as hotel, hospitality, travel, and tourism. For instance, Darcy (2002) has advocated for social and policy changes to promote tourism for individuals with disabilities. He asserted that while policy solutions to greater access to tourism for those with disabilities can be complicated, actions need to go beyond simply improving access to built environments.

Table 3

Sample of Requested Accommodations by Type of Disability
Type of Disability Accommodation Requested
Visual Large print materials, 1:1 assistance, room/space orientation, accommodation of service animal, auditory cues & descriptions, lighting changes, consistent room set-up, thick descriptions
Hearing Print script/materials, sign language interpreter, visual cues, placement in room
Intellectual Repeating directions, 1:1 assistance, slower pace, color coding of sequences of steps, pictorial materials, decrease distractions, rule modification
Mobility 1:1 assistance, accommodation of service animal, architectural accessibility, adapted equipment, rule modification

Limitations and future studies

While this study provides an understanding of the perspectives of people with disabilities on reasonable accommodation in public park and recreation services or facilities and whether the accommodations are effective in facilitating meaningful recreation experiences, the view of accommodations are from their perspective only. To extend the knowledge based, perspectives park and recreation professionals could be examined. To further understand the experiences of individuals with disabilities observations of individuals engaging in recreation services could be conducted. Lastly, this study was limited to the inclusion of research participants who participated in public parks and recreation services. Further inquiries could also explore the perspectives of individuals with disabilities and their experiences accessing reasonable accommodations in private recreation venues.


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