Accessibility Guidelines

The U.S. Access Board is asking for comments on their October 2009 "Draft Final Accessibility Guidelines for Outdoor Developed Areas" by December 18, 2009. These Guidelines will become final direction for accessibility on trails on Federal land. Once the Guidelines are finalized they will be the basis for future regulations which will apply to ALL new trails on local and State lands as well. It is critical that trail designers, contractors, and managers review these guidelines closely and comment on issues or concerns they see.

(credit to American Trails

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Agencies and organizations have raised concerns about aspects of the Guidelines which seem vague and could cause problems with compliance. The Guidelines contain a number of changes from the 2007 "Noticeof Proposed Rulemaking" (NPRM), which received over 600 comments.

Comparing the new Guidelines with the previous NPRM:

  • Trails are required to comply with the accessibility requirements "to the maximum extent feasible." The term "feasible" is not defined, so there is no guidance on how much change to the trail environment is the maximum feasible.
  • NPRM permitted exceptions where compliance would "substantially alter" the function or purpose of the facility or the setting. The new Guidelines change this to "fundamentally alter," a term both vague and absolute.
  • NPRM allowed exceptions where "compliance would cause substantial harm to cultural, historic, religious, or significant natural features or characteristics." The Guidelines require designers to cite specific laws for any exception, which would result in more bureaucratic effort and a deterrent to building new trails.
  • If it is decided that a new or altered trail will not comply with the guidelines, an unspecified Notification must be filed with the Access Board, which could become another burden to trail managers.
  • In previous versions, guideposts helped trail managers document when following the guidelines was not "reasonable." These guideposts are now deleted, leaving managers' decisions legally reviewable based only on the judgment of the Access Board.
Read the Appalachian Trail Conservancy comments.
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Or Comment on this page and we will try to summarize all the comments and submit a formal comment.
Comment due date: 
ATC Comments on Accessibility Guidelines 12-10-2009.pdf127.74 KB

Comment: Please be relevant, civil, non-commercial.

TC action

I highly recommend that we endorse the ATC position with suitable changes of names, etc.