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Beyond Accessibility

Sure, your indoor rec area complies with ADA regulations.

The bathrooms, water fountains, and doors are accessible. The parking lots have handicap-friendly parking, and there are curb cuts where necessary.

Where stairs once might have posed a problem for users, there are now ramps and elevators.

But even with all of these amenities, is your facility really welcoming to visitors?

With adapted sports programs on the rise, it's likely that not only athletes but also spectators with mobility limitations will be using the facility.

And it's essential to remember that today's spectators may well be tomorrow's athletes, particularly if they see participants having a great time.

Even if they're not, they look forward to the games and events, and keep coming back. Happy spectators make a game much more enjoyable.

Address The Obvious

So where do you start in making a facility welcoming to spectators with some limitations? By thinking like them.

Things you might take for granted can be formidable obstacles--or at the very least, inconveniences--to someone in a wheelchair, on crutches, etc.

Obviously, safety should be first. Keeping all areas well-lit, and walkways free of debris will help everyone. Keeping flooring clean and all carpet smooth and secured also will go a long way.

One might be surprised at the difference low-tech changes like these can make.

Here are a few additional ways to enhance the experience for everyone:

• If a spectator area contains special seating for participants in wheelchairs, these areas should be evenly spaced out. (Nobody likes to feel like they're in a confined area, and everyone wants to sit with their friends, so companion seating should be nearby as well.)

• If an area includes any gating or passageways, remember that athletic wheelchairs (the wheels of which are on a camber, or slant) may require a wider space. Any openings should be at least 48 inches wide so wheelchairs don't have to be disassembled in order to fit through.

• Make sure HVAC systems are working efficiently since many times individuals with spinal-cord or brain injuries are extremely sensitive to temperature, particularly to heat.

• Equip restrooms with power outlets so individuals who use any type of breathing or suctioning apparatus can plug in this equipment in case of an emergency.

• If a facility regularly hosts events such as wheelchair basketball or tennis, re-evaluate how many handicap-accessible parking spaces you have. An upgrade might be in order, as well as a pick-up site if individuals are receiving rides from friends or on transit services.

• Tile, hardwood. and many synthetic surfaces are easier for users with wheelchairs than carpet; however, some facilities recently have begun experimenting with synthetic turf that is specifically designed to allow wheelchairs to move without as much resistance. Such turf generally has a shorter pile.

Seek Advice

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice issued final regulations revising Titles II and III, including the ADA Standards for Accessible Design. The full text of the 2010 standards can be found at www.ada.gov . Specifically mentioned is access to sports facilities, including courts, fields, and stadiums.

Something to consider is a focus group that will give an honest opinion on the facilities. What is being done well? What could be improved upon?

Ask athletes with disabilities what they think; they will have great ideas and expert view.

Often, budgetary considerations will mean you can't implement every suggested change, but some ideas can be brought online without too much of an outlay of cash.

Reach out to groups that can help. The U.S. Tennis Association, which has a formidable wheelchair-tennis program, has compiled a grassroots guide for gaining support of local programs for mobility-impaired players. The following is a suggestion on possible ways to find athletes (and spectators) with mobility limitations:

• Veterans Administration hospitals, rehabilitation hospitals, and Shriners hospitals. While most hospitals will not supply the names of patients for privacy reasons, it may be possible to have hospitals pass information to individuals who might be interested in wheelchair sports, or to set up a free informational session to talk about the sport.

• Physical therapists and occupational therapists. Make contact with state or regional chapters of professional associations serving therapists.

• Wheelchair dealers and durable medical-supply companies

• Schools (elementary, middle and high schools, and colleges)

• Churches

• Local media, including newspapers, radio, and TV. Talk to a reporter about your desire to start a program. It makes a good human-interest feature for the media, and publicizes the program.

• Outpatient clinics, support groups, and more.

Other possibilities might include local or state medical associations, amputee associations, and others.

In many districts, there is one rec group or council that includes athletes and spectators with mobility restrictions, as well as their families and friends, and seems to enjoy all the positive support of the community. Why not work to make that your group or council?

Note: The American Sports Builders Association (ASBA) is a non-profit association helping designers, builders, owners, operators, and users understand quality sports-facility construction. The ASBA sponsors informative meetings and publishes newsletters, books, and technical construction guidelines for athletic facilities, including turf fields. Available at no charge is a listing of all publications offered by the Association, as well as the ASBA’s Membership Directory. Info: 866-501-ASBA (2722) or www.sportsbuilders.org .

Mary Helen Sprecher has been a technical writer for more than 20 years with the American Sports Builders Association. She has written on various topics relating to sports-facility design, construction, and supply, as well as sports medicine, education, and health and industrial issues. She is an avid racquetball and squash player, and a full-time newspaper reporter in Baltimore, Md.

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