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Public comment needed on potential conflicts between federal accessibility guidelines

Differences in accessibility guidelines may produce conflicts between proposed trails and recreation accessibility guidelines. Public comments are needed to clarify these issues.

For background see

By Janet Zeller, USDA Forest Service

If you share the concern that accessibility should be maximized but the natural setting should not be changing when doing so, please send your comments on the Access Board's proposed Outdoor Developed Areas accessibility guidelines in your own words to the Access Board. The comment period closes on October 18 (see details below).

The Forest Service Outdoor Recreation Accessibility Guidelines and Forest Service Trail Accessibility Guidelines accessibility will remain in place as legally mandated in the National Forest System, even after the Access Board's guidelines finalize. EXCEPT, the Forest Service (FS) will have to change any technical specifications in our FS guidelines that are a lower standard then the Access Board's where the Forest Service has taken exceptions that the Access Board doesn't. All other areas and formats where the FS is equal to or higher than the Access Board will stay the same.

There are eight Access Board technical specifications that are higher or different, about which the FS is very concerned. Six deal with trails and two deal with developed recreation areas. If these specifications are not changed by the Access Board in their final guidelines they will have serious impacts on FS campgrounds, picnic areas, etc. and on trails. Those eight specifics are explained below.

You may submit comments, identified by Docket No. 2007 - 02, by any of the following methods:

  • Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov
  • E-mail: outdoor@access-board.gov with Docket No. 2007 - 02 in the subject line
  • Fax: (202) 272-0081
  • Mail or Hand Delivery: Office of Technical and Information Services, Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, 1331 F St., NW, Ste. 1000, Washington, DC 20004-1111.

All submissions received must include "U.S. Access Board" and "Docket No. 2007 - 02" (the docket number for this rulemaking). All comments received will be posted without change to http://www.access-board.gov, including any personal information provided. All comments must be submitted by October 18, 2007.

A full copy of the proposed Access Board guidelines is available at http://www.access-board.gov/outdoor/nprm. And of course the FSORAG and the FSTAG are available at http://www.fs.fed.us/recreation/program/accessibility. Please let me know if you have any questions


Differences between the Proposed Access Board Guidelines and Forest Service Trail Accessibility Guidelines (FSTAG) and Forest Service Outdoor Recreation Accessibility Guidelines (FSORAG)

1. The proposed Access Board guidelines have added the definition for alteration that applies to buildings but does not fit trails. The final Access Board guidelines need to clarify that definition of alteration does not apply to trails.

2. The definitions for alteration and for maintenance of trails in the original Regulatory Negotiation Committee's 1999 Report (page 6) must be included in the definitions section of the final Access Board guidelines, just as they are in the definitions section of the FSTAG. Those original Report definitions are clear and applicable to the trails.

3. In the proposed Access Board guidelines there is no exception provided for protruding objects below 80 inches in height when they occur on a trail where placing a warning barrier would block passage down the trail. Such an exception is needed in the final Access Board guidelines.

4. The proposed Access Board guidelines include the International Symbol of Accessibility (the ISA, which is the wheelchair symbol) in each of the sample trail signs. The use of that symbol in relation to trails will lead the public to expect an ease of access that will not be there even when a trail complies fully with the guidelines because grades up to 12.5% are appropriately allowable under the guidelines. Instead, the final Access Board guidelines should not use the ISA but should require information be to be posted that is useful to all trail users in determining which trail best meets their skills and available resources, including maximum grade, cross slope, minimum width and so forth, as detailed in the FSTAG 7.3.10.

5. The Access Board has rewritten the 2nd General Exception. It no longer states what the Regulatory Negotiation Committee Report intended. As it currently written it is confusing and appears to imply that only 15% of the length of a trail ever needs to be accessible, which is not correct. The final Access Board guidelines must go back to the original Regulatory Negotiation Committee's language for the 2nd General Exception.

6. The Interagency Trail Data Standards (ITDS) have been adopted by the FS, BLM, NPS, FWS and BOR. The ITDS include standardized trail terminology, definitions, and standardized management concepts including Trail Classes, Designed Uses and Managed Uses. The final Access Board guidelines must integrate the ITDS terminology, definitions and trail management concepts of trail classes, designed use and designated use, including within the Conditions of Departure, in order for the final Access Board guidelines to be useable within the federal agencies trails structure. The ITDS website is http://www.nps.gov/gis/trails.

7. Exception for Outdoor Recreation Access Route grade/slope is needed for alterations/reconstruction.

8. The Outdoor Recreation Access Route (ORAR) technical specifications, for the pathways that connect facilities, work well in most newly constructed campgrounds and picnic areas, where the Forest Service has the opportunity to select the location for that developed recreation site. In older developed recreation areas, due to the terrain of the site where a campground or picnic area was originally constructed, during alteration/reconstruction of that site it may not be possible for the entire length of the ORAR to meet the grade requirements, without a significant change to the natural environment. In the FSORAG that situation is recognized as a condition for departing from the guidelines and an exception is allowed, so the grade/slope specifications in that section of that ORAR would not have to be met, thereby maintaining the natural setting.

However, the proposed Access Board guidelines do not permit any exceptions to the ORARs technical specifications, regardless of the terrain, historic, cultural or environmental factors, even in alteration/reconstruction situations. The final Access Board guidelines need to include an exception for ORARs in alterations of existing sites, so when a section of an ORAR in those alteration locations can't meet the ORAR maximum grade specifications there is an exception available.

If the final Access Board guidelines do not include such an exception, the FSORAG will have to be changed to also not permit any exceptions to meeting the ORAR specifications, in alterations of existing sites. That change would have a negative impact on incorporating accessibility while protecting the natural environment at existing recreation areas.

ORARs should not be required in areas that are not developed recreation sites.

In areas where facilities/constructed features such as fire-rings or pit toilets are placed primarily because they are needed for resource protection, including adjacent to trails and in undeveloped areas, the trail specifications should apply to the route to the facilities rather than the ORAR specifications, in order to blend the route to those facilities into the undeveloped setting. Facilities constructed or altered anywhere, including adjacent to trails or in undeveloped areas, must be both appropriate to the setting and accessible, in compliance with the Architectural Barriers Act requirement of facility access for all.

The proposed Access Board guidelines only address the routes to facilities in developed recreation areas. The final Access Board guidelines need to make a distinction between developed recreation areas and undeveloped areas where facilities are placed primarily for resource protection. Unless that distinction is made, the FSORAG will have to be changed so that facilities in undeveloped areas would be required to be connected to an ORAR and that would have negative impact on undeveloped areas.


See the Forest Service Trail Accessibility Guidelines (FSTAG) - Download the FSTAG in PDF pr Word formats and Questions & Answers on the FSTAG (75 kb). Read the notice in the Federal Register: February 17, 2005.

These guidelines and more information are available at www.fs.fed.us/recreation/programs/accessibility.

This document was developed in order to assist commenters in understanding the differences and potential conflicts between the two sets of accessibility guidelines. Any questions concerning this summary document should be directed to Janet Zeller, Forest Service Accessibility Program Manager, at jzeller@fs.fed.us.

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