A Closer Look

Unless you are a trail manager or an ADA-compliance supervisor, you may not know there has been a flurry of activity to address public spaces after the Department of Justice (DOJ) amended several areas of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

ATVs on your trails?

The amendments apply to Title II, covering programs, activities and services of public entities, and Title III, covering public accommodations, commercial facilities and private entities offering specific examinations and courses.

“The amendment allows virtually any type of vehicle to be used for accessibility. When the new regulations were being vetted, no one seemed to catch on to how far-reaching this would be,” says Stuart MacDonald, National Trails Training Partnership manager for American Trails.

“Most people might have just thought it applied to Segways, and no one quite thought that this rule could mean that ATV and full-sized vehicles could be imposed as accessibility devices.”

The new compliance rules force parks and recreation officials to think about accommodating such devices on trails, which typically ban the use of motorized vehicles.

Undefined Territory

The largest concern for park and trail managers isn’t the use of wheelchairs on trails, but the category referred to as Other Power Driven Mobility Device (OPDMD), which is defined by the DOJ as “any mobility device powered by batteries, fuel, or other engines — whether or not designed primarily for use by individuals with mobility disabilities — that is used by individuals with mobility disabilities for the purpose of locomotion, including golf cars, electronic personal-assistance mobility devices (EPAMDs), such as the Segway PT, or any mobility device designed to operate in areas without defined pedestrian routes, but that is not a wheelchair.”

During a recent webinar, Janet Zeller, National Accessibility Program manager for the U.S. Forest Service, said, “An OPDMD means anything with a motor that does not meet the specifications of a wheelchair.”

OPDMD could literally be any other powered device, from trucks to all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes to Segways, and many devices in between. The DOJ doesn’t specify categories for the various OPDMDs.

The new regulations have resulted in many park and trail managers scratching their collective heads on how to assess trails and open areas in accommodating the various categories of OPDMDs. In addition, those who did not have the proper assessments in place by March 15 were forced to be open to all OPDMDs by default. In some cases, park managers are opting to close trails and open spaces until they can properly assess the trails for OPDMD use.

Assessment Factors

What exactly needs to be considered? For trails and open spaces, the DOJ assessment factors to use OPDMD in specific areas include:

• The type, size, weight, dimensions and speed of the device

• The facility’s volume of pedestrian traffic, which may vary at different times of the day, week, month or year

• The facility’s design and operational characteristics (i.e., whether its service, program or activity is conducted indoors; its square footage; the density and placement of stationary devices; and the availability of storage for the device, if requested by the user)

• The establishment of legitimate safety requirements to permit the safe operation of the OPDMD in the specific facility

•The consideration as to whether the use of the OPDMD creates a substantial risk of serious harm to the immediate environment or natural or cultural resources, or poses a conflict with federal land-management laws and regulations.

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