Opening Statement on Status of Disability Access in NYC Parks
Committee on Parks and Recreation
Int. No 558
February 27, 2015
Good Afternoon, my name is Mark Levine, and I am the Chair of the City Council’s Committee on Parks & Recreation. Today, the Parks Committee will consider Int 558, a bill that I have introduced, which will require the Parks Department (DPR) to submit an annual report to the Council on the status of disability access in its facilities and its compliance with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
This committee has focused intently on the goal of ensuring that all New Yorkers can enjoy the benefits of our parks--and that surely must include New Yorkers with disabilities. But in a vast park system with thousands of structures and recreational features spread out over tens of thousands of acres of dramatically varying terrain, achieving full accessibility represents a monumental challenge.
Comfort stations, playgrounds, pools, basketball courts, beaches, gardens, recreation centers, ball fields, hiking trails...each pose unique obstacles to allowing for full accessibility to people with disabilities. And sadly throughout most of the history of our park system we didn’t even try to achieve this critical goal.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of course ensures that all new construction and major renovations of recreation centers, comfort stations, and similar structures in our parks meet accessibility standards.
But the ADA does not mandate retrofits, and a quarter of a century after passage of this landmark legislation an unacceptably high number of comfort stations in our parks still remain inaccessible to New Yorkers with disabilities.
Exactly what portion of parks structures are accessible today? How quickly are we retrofitting them? How long will it take to achieve the critical goal of 100% accessibility? Has the pace of accessible upgrades been greater in higher income areas than in our city’s low- and moderate-income neighborhoods? In other words, is there a “parks equity” gap in accessibility?
Int. 558 will give the City Council, and the public, answers to these important questions. This bill would require that by December 1st of each year, DPR submit a report to the mayor and the Council identifying which of its park facilities are compliant with the standards for accessible design of the ADA. The report would cover each park restroom station, park comfort station, playground restroom station, playground comfort station, recreation center, pool and beach and contain information on the location of each facility; a statement as to whether the facility is in compliance; and for each such facility that is not in compliance, an explanation of when it will be brought into ADA compliance.
This information will serve as an unprecedented tool for those of us advocating for significant acceleration in the pace of retrofits in our park system. I also hope it will spark a broader conversation about what accessibility means not just in parks buildings--but in parks themselves.
A new generation of designers, advocates, and regular citizens are extending the concept of accessibility in dramatic and exciting new directions, re-envisioning playgrounds and gardens and hiking trails in ways that welcome and include everyone--regardless of whether they use mobility devices, and even whether they have visual or cognitive impairments.
If you want to get a taste of this inspiring new movement, you need go no further than a visit to the High Line. The park’s 10th Avenue Amphitheater features innovative zig-zag seating which allows a wheelchair user to roll down to the stage level. The exposed rail tracks in the newest section of the High Line include wooden ties and gravel, but still somehow leave a smooth solid surface that a wheelchair can easily glide over. These features prove that the best in accessible design doesn’t detract in any way from use by the general population. In fact most people likely would think that the amphitheater’s zig-zag is just some sort of cutting edge design. I personally didn’t even realize that the rail tracks were accessible until I saw Commissioner Calise roll by on them.
The truth is that time and time again, accommodations we have made for people with disabilities have ended up benefiting us all. By a show of hands, how many of you have ever used a subway elevator? How many of you have ever used closed-captioning on a television? How about a curb cut on a New York City street?
So let’s push the envelope. Let’s accelerate the pace of retrofitting comfort stations. Let’s design playgrounds which allow all kids with all levels of ability to play together effortlessly. Let’s create gardens and pathways which allow New Yorkers at all stages of life and all levels of mobility to enjoy our beautiful parks together. Let’s consider the ADA to be a floor not a ceiling. And by all means, let’s pass intro. 558.
I look forward to hearing comments from the Department and members of the public on the particulars of this bill and on the broader issues at stake here.