Beyond Accessibility

Sure, your indoor rec area complies with ADA regulations.

Is your recreation center truly welcoming to visitors with disabilities?

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:

The right surface can mean all the difference for differently abled athletes.

• 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.

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