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Accessibility Action Plan for National Forest Lands

Accessibility to USDA Forest Service Programs and Facilities.

From the USDA Forest Service

Accessibility is an issue that does or will affect each person, either directly or through one’s family or friends.

In the early 1990s the Access to America’s Great Outdoors initiative helped the USDA Forest Service to become aware and to move forward in the area of accessibility. The USDA Forest Service has worked since that time to integrate accessibility into its programs and facilities. We have made many improvements, however in recent years the rate of that progress has slowed.

The USDA Forest Service must rededicate itself to ensuring equal opportunity for all people. Accessibility is a service delivery issue. As stated in the USDA Forest Service Strategic Plan (4.f), as an agency we will "ensure that NFS lands and USDA Forest Service programs and facilities are accessible to all Americans."

In addition, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior were directed (PL 105-359) by Congress to complete an independent study of "ways to improve access for persons with disabilities to outdoor recreation on Federally managed lands" by June 30, 2000. The study, conducted by Wilderness Inquiry, evaluated the accessibility of USDA Forest Service programs, services, facilities, and sites and reported the findings along with recommendations in the Improving Access to Outdoor Recreational Activities on Federal Lands report. The study found it is not possible to separate accessibility to recreation opportunities from the accessibility to all other programs and facilities.

The strategic direction and the implementation of the recommendations of that report give the agency an opportunity to take significant steps toward the integration of accessibility into all of our programs, services, facilities, and sites.

To accomplish this work a USDA Forest Service taskforce was formed to develop an Accessibility Action Plan using strategic and tactical actions to both implement the recommendations in the report and to help shift the agency’s culture. This Accessibility Action Plan has been widely embraced by the agency, reaching beyond recreation, to ensure that the USDA Forest Service is moving forward to make the inclusion of accessibility an integral part of the way in which we do business.

Through alignment of agency philosophy and resources, and effective utilization of emerging technologies, community-based solutions, and partners, the USDA Forest Service can continue to provide equal opportunity for all people, including persons with disabilities.

The USDA Forest Service has proven many times that we are capable of doing what we set our minds to. We must make equal opportunity to enjoy the public lands and to participate in the agency’s programs a reality in the USDA Forest Service regardless of a person’s age, culture or ability.

ACCESSIBILITY ACTION PLAN

Beginning in 2001, the USDA Forest Service will place significant priority on accessibility by providing:

· Leadership Commitment and Involvement
· Completion and implementation of transition Plans
· Communication of Information to the Public
· Leadership Support
· Integration of Accessibility Training into Existing Forums and Training Opportunities
· Program Leadership
· Accountability and Oversight of All Units and Leadership
· Focused Actions within Budget Priorities

Commitment and Involvement by Leadership:

USDA Forest Service leadership will:

· Emphasize commitment to equal opportunity for all people, including persons with disabilities, and support for the accessibility that commitment will necessitate.

· Lead the USDA Forest Service by integrating accessibility into all USDA Forest Service policies.

· Revise the USDA Forest Service Manuals and Handbooks to integrate accessibility into all USDA Forest Service programs and facilities.

· Emphasize the hiring and retention of persons with disabilities, and their involvement in the decision making process at each decision level (i.e. national regional, forest, and station leadership teams).

· Coordinate efforts with the USDA Forest Service Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Employees with Disabilities Assessment Team (FS-SACED).

Completion and Implementation of Transition Plans:

· Complete the assessment of the accessibility of USDA Forest Service programs and facilities and develop transition plans for all programs and facilities that are not currently accessible. These Transition Plans are then to be implemented.

· Data compiled about the status of implementing transition plans will be carried in INFRA.

· All Capitol Investment Project (CIP) approval processes will include accessibility as a key component. CIP applications will also, as warranted, address the project’s relationship to transition plan implementation.

Communication of Information to the Public:

· Integrate accessibility into the national templates for web-based information to ensure consistent information and accessible format, in compliance with Section 508 standards, at the national, regional and other unit levels.

· Provide web-based information in hard copy and alternative formats (for example, large print, Braille, audio tape, etc.).

· As trails managed for pedestrian use are constructed, reconstructed or evaluated for accessibility, provide trail information, based on steepest gradient, steepest cross slope, narrowest tread width, trail surface and highest tread obstacle.

Provide support for leadership on issues:

· Provide information and resources for the field dealing with
accessibility related issues.

Integrate Accessibility Training into Existing Forums and Training Opportunities:

· Present Awareness Level training to all employees (30 minutes) to be presented by the accessibility specialists at the district, forest, regional and national levels

· Incorporate accessibility into existing core competency training for recreation, engineering, public affairs, special uses, etc.

· Develop and present partner/permittee training (1 hour) in group format on the local unit as a portion of partner/permittee training, or train partners / permittees individually preliminary to the compliance review process. The forum should be determined by the local unit

All training/materials will be developed by the National Accessibility Program Manager working closely with specialists in each area (for example recreation, engineering, public affairs, special uses, civil rights) and at all levels of the agency. This training should be under the umbrella of Corporate Training.

Program Leadership:

· Reestablish national leadership for accessibility by filling and supporting a full-time National Program Manager for Accessibility on the RHWR staff. This position will lead the implementation of the Accessibility strategy and coordinate and provide expertise across disciplines.

- Establish Regional level accessibility coordinator position (25 percent collateral duty at minimum). These regional positions should become full time.

- Establish Forest level accessibility coordinator positions (20 percent collateral duty at minimum).

- Establish accessibility coordinator positions (10 percent collateral duty at minimum) at stations, the area and the IITF.

Focused Actions Within the Budget Priorities:

· Integrate accessibility as core criteria in CIP in FY2001 and successive fiscal years.

· Use existing highway authorities such as TEA-21 and future highway acts to improve accessibility to public roads. Integrate awareness of opportunities to improve adjacent accessibility into TEA-21 training programs.

· Integrate accessibility into tourism focus.

· Focus and integrate accessibility/universal design as a priority. Emphasis will be on the Recreation Strategy and accessibility to our national forests, thereby also including Deferred Maintenance.

- Making significant CIP investments in planning, design and rehabilitation of aging recreation facilities to bring them up to current accessibility standards.

- Making capital investments in recreational trails, scenic overlooks, and other day- use sites to fully integrate current accessibility guidelines, based on completed assessments and transition plans.

- Promoting equal opportunity to participate in all programs.

- Making investments in all unit administrative facilities to bring these areas of employment and public services up to current accessibility standards, based on completed assessments and transition plans.

- Play a vital collaborative role in working together in partnerships with permit holders, service providers, and affiliated community organizations to improve USDA Forest Service units and to develop a “seamless" visit experience for all people, including people with disabilities.

- Focus social and technical research on accessible recreation and technological advancements to improve access of all people.

Accountability and Oversight of All Units and Leadership:

· Include accessibility reviews in all national and regional program and facility reviews such as general management, functional assistance, and compliance reviews.

· Report the accessibility accomplishments in each Senior Executive Service (SES) annual performance review.

· Establish Accessibility Accomplishment Award at the National, Regional, Station, Area, and IITF levels and State and Private Forestry.

Published 11 April 2002

See current news, legislation, and more resources for accessible trails

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