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Clarification on the proposed accessibility guidelines

This additional explanation and background information is provided to help explain the proposed accessibility guidelines developed by the Regulatory Negotiation Committee under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

We have divided the information into two general categories; process and the proposed accessibility guidelines.


The Access Board chose to use regulatory negotiation as a way to develop a notice of proposed rulemaking on accessibility guidelines for trails, camping and picnic facilities, and beaches. The committee was charged with reaching consensus on proposed accessibility guidelines. The Board has committed to publishing for public comment all areas where the committee reaches consensus. Where the committee does not reach consensus, the Board will consider the issues and address them accordingly.

After publication of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), the Board will review the public comment and write a final rule. Once finalized by the Board, the accessibility guidelines will serve as the basis for enforceable standards by the Department of Justice. The accessibility guidelines will eventually apply to newly constructed and altered trails, picnic and camping facilities, and beaches. It is intended that they will also apply as the standard for the Architectural Barriers Act which covers the Federal government. To become the enforceable standard under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a separate rulemaking by the Department of Justice must be completed.



As proposed, accessibility guidelines for trails are triggered when a trail is newly constructed or altered. Operators and land managers make the decision when and where they will construct or alter a trail. Once they decide, the accessibility guidelines apply ONLY to those trails connected to an accessible trail or accessible trail head. This is supported in the following language:

All newly designed and constructed trails, and altered portions of existing trails connected to an accessible trail or accessible trail head shall comply with 16.

Designers and operators are permitted to depart from the technical provisions of section 16 where specified and where at least one or more of the four conditions is present. The technical provisions for trails are contained in follow in section 16 2.1 through 16.2.11.

Departures are permitted in the following four conditions.

1. Where compliance would cause substantial harm to cultural, historic, religious, or significant natural features or characteristics;

2. Where compliance would substantially alter the nature of the setting or the purpose of the facility, or portion of the facility;

3. Where compliance would require construction methods or materials that are prohibited by federal, state, or local regulations or statutes;

4. Where compliance would not be feasible due to terrain or the prevailing construction practices.

Two other general exemptions are included that basically exempt trails where the conditions are so extreme that it would be inappropriate to apply the technical provisions. This includes situations where there is a combination of conditions or extreme site characteristics.

The first general exception identifies extreme conditions, and exempts the trail from the remaining technical provisions. The extreme conditions identified include:

(a) Where the combination of running slope and cross slope exceeds 40% for over 20 feet

(b) Where there is a trail obstacle 30 inches or more in height

(c) Where there is an unstable surface for 45 feet or more

(d) Where a trail width is less than 12 inches for 25 feet

The second general exception considers situations where one or more of the four conditions in 16.1.1 are met resulting in departures from the technical provisions in 16.2 for over 15% of the length of the trail. In this case, the remaining technical provisions shall not apply after the first point of where the condition(s) required you to depart from the technical provision.

The technical provisions do not apply to:

1. New and altered trails that are not connected to accessible trails or accessible trailheads.

2. Existing trails where no alteration is planned.

3. Portions of existing trails that are being connected by a new or altered portion.

This approach is very similar to ADAAG and accessibility guidelines for other buildings and facilities, except in some very important ways. ADAAG applies to all new buildings and facilities that are designed and constructed. In most cases, only where there are multiple features in a building of the same type, (i.e., toilet stalls, parking spaces) does ADAAG only require a certain percentage to be accessible. No list of conditions allows for departures from the accessibility guidelines in new construction.

NOTE: The term "100% scoping" does not accurately reflect the proposed accessibility guidelines for trails. Trail technical provisions apply to all new trails and altered portions of trails, just like other newly constructed and altered buildings and facilities covered by ADAAG. Unlike other buildings and facilities, however, no one expects that all new and altered trails will be accessible. This is based on the conditions identified in 16.1.1.

The proposed trail accessibility guidelines allow for and anticipate the conditions that may prevent compliance with the guidelines. Four separate and very distinct conditions are identified that can prevent designers and operators from following the technical provisions.

The accessibility guidelines require no documentation for designers and operators when they depart from the technical provisions due to one or more of the conditions. This is consistent with ADAAG. If a complaint is filed, designers and operators may be required to support and provide an explanation of their reasons for departure. Similar to ADAAG 2.2 that addresses equivalent facilitation, designers may depart from the technical provisions where what they do provides substantially equivalent or greater access. No preapproval is provided for this requirement.

Trail technical provisions address certain characteristics such as:

  • surface
  • clear width
  • openings
  • protruding objects
  • tread obstacles
  • passing space
  • running slope
  • cross slope
  • resting intervals
  • edge protection
  • signs

Each provision requires a minimum to be followed where no condition exists that would prevent meeting it. Several provisions include another level of access before there is no obligation to meet the provisions. The departures apply technical requirements provision-by-provision, unless otherwise specified. The technical provisions set out a minimum which can be exceeded where designers and operators chose.

Picnic and Camping Facilities

Scoping and technical provisions have been developed for the various elements found in these areas. In most cases, the provisions are consistent with the technical provisions already in ADAAG. In picnic facilities, they differ in some areas such as the number of elements required to be accessible. For elements such as picnic tables, fire rings, and cooking surfaces and grills, 50% are required to be accessible, where two or more are provided in an area,. Unlike current ADAAG however, a modified accessible route will connect only 40% of those accessible elements. This provides for more accessible elements without the obligation to connect to an accessible route. Where only one element is provided in an area, the accessibility guidelines require the element to be accessible.

Provisions for accessible camping facilities differ in the scoping provisions in that they require accessible elements per type of camping. For example, where RV camping is provided, a certain number of accessible RV spaces are required in new construction. If tent camping is provided on the same site, a certain number of accessible tent spaces are required.


The accessibility guidelines make important differences between natural beaches and manmade beaches. The committee considered the opportunity to provide for an accessible beach route to be greater where a beach is newly constructed. In this case, an accessible beach route to the water's edge is required. For existing beaches where a pedestrian route is designed and constructed, an accessible beach route is required (with some exceptions). In this case, the accessible beach route is only required where a pedestrian route is provided.

Another important provision allows for the accessible beach route to be temporary. Where a permanent route would not be practical, designers and operators can chose to use a temporary route meeting the same technical provisions as a permanent route.

July 1999

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