Recreation Access for Everybody!

Northeast ADA Center Staff April 26, 2020

people canoeing

By LaWanda H. Cook

Summer is fast approaching and it’s got the Northeast ADA Center staff thinking about increasing our activity and enjoying parks, beaches, and other recreation spaces! 
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a comprehensive, broad-reaching Civil Rights law that applies to all aspects of community life, including leisure. Over the past few years, we have gotten an increasing number of requests for training and technical assistance (TA) about inclusive fitness, wellness, and recreation services.
The need for opportunities to participate in such programming cannot be overstated. Research indicates that as a group, people with disabilities experience more everyday stress than people without disabilities. Further, individuals with disabilities frequently have secondary health conditions, and are more likely to be obese than their non-disabled peers. Leisure-time physical activity and other forms of recreation can significantly improve the physical, social, and emotional well-being of people with and without disabilities. 
While these benefits are well documented, and the right to access and participate in programming provided by municipalities and private businesses is covered under the ADA, the leisure arena can sometimes be challenging for people with disabilities. Leisure professionals may think of access as a “nice thing to do, when there’s money in the budget”. It’s important to understand that no matter what an entity’s experience is with serving individuals with disabilities, and no matter how big (or small) the budget, access to and inclusion in community based programs and services is not only essential to well-being, but also a legal right. While “special” programs are allowed under the ADA, they are not required. Nor can individuals with disabilities be required to participate in such programming, as long as they meet the legitimate, nondiscriminatory eligibility criteria for attending the “regular” program. Therefore, recreation providers need to ensure physical and program accessibility and have a process by which participants can request disability-related accommodations, if needed. 
To learn more about how the ADA applies to various recreation settings, listen to our archived webinar, Access to Community Recreation Areas, for an overview of the recreation areas required to be accessible under the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, including: amusement rides, boating facilities, fishing piers and platforms, golf courses, miniature golf, and swimming pools and spas. 
For tips on designing physically, programmatically, and attitudinally inclusive recreation programs, see the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) website at


To find out about local programs, contact your City parks and recreation department. 
To learn about the accessibility features at recreation sites throughout New York State, go to:
For a directory of adapted leisure and recreation programs in the state of New Jersey, see:
For a list of accessible hotels and beaches in Puerto Rico, go to:

For information about accessibility features of hotels and restaurants in the U.S. Virgin Islands, see:
If you are looking to try a new sport or want to find a place to do your favorite sport, check out:
International Association for Disabled Sailing
National Alliance for Accessible Golf
Wheelchair Sports USA

And, as always, if you would like confidential technical assistance to understand how the ADA applies in your work and life, please contact us at 1.800.949.4232 or, or visit
Wishing you a happy, healthy, and fun-filled summer!


LaWanda H. Cook. PhD, is an Extension Faculty Associate with Cornell University’s Yang Tan Institute on Employment and Disability. She leads the Institute’s Healthy Living initiatives and engages in research and program development related to the well-being of individuals with disabilities.  Currently she is conducting research about the work/life management practices of people with disabilities. She also provides training,  technical assistance, and evaluation services to public and private providers to enhance inclusion of people with disabilities in fitness, recreation, and workplace wellness programming.