Accessibility in the National Park Service

While notable advancements have been made, much is needed to break down the barriers and embrace greater inclusivity. Parks, programs, and leaders across the service need more education, guidance, support, and resources to create more welcoming experiences for a broad spectrum of audiences.

by National Park Service


All In Accessibility in the NPS 2015 2020 FINAL


Visitors of all levels of ability are drawn to our national parks. When they arrive, we hope they engage with the rich collection of stories and resources that reflect our national heritage and diversity. In their daily work supporting our mission, employees plan, design, build, and support facilities and programs aimed at enhancing the visitors’ understanding, safety, comfort, and enjoyment of park resources. Along the way, a series of choices and trade-offs are made ranging from material, media type, and cost to aesthetics and presentation, which can impact access levels for visitors with disabilities. Implicit in the National Park Service mission is that all members of our visiting public are afforded access to our significant sites and the stories within. Knowing that only a coordinated approach to a challenge of this magnitude would work, Director’s Order 42 was released to set the National Park Service on a path of continuous improvement.

While outstanding projects have been completed since, many programs, facilities, and services fall short of carrying out this goal. Why? In general, collective awareness and organizational commitment to make significant cultural changes across the park system have drifted as additional priorities have arisen and public expectations have shifted. This lack of continued, focused attention to address and correct known accessibility problems has inhibited our progress, and remains frustrating to our visitors, staffs, and stakeholders.

Published June 2015

About the Author


The National Park Service (NPS) was created in 1916 and today manages over 390 units found in all 50 states and some of the U.S. territories. NPS supports and operates trails in three interlocking arenas: trails in parks, technical assistance to States and communities, and administration of much of the National Trails System.

More articles by this author

More Articles in this Category

Fort River Birding and Nature Trail

The Fort River Birding and Nature Trail is a universally accessible trail. It was presented with the 2014 Paul Winske Access Award by the Stavros Center for Independent Living.

Trail Design & Maintenance

For trails to be considered “sustainable” they must meet these recreational needs while providing adequate protection to the environment while minimizing trail maintenance.

American Trails Webinar - The Science of Sustainable Trail Design and Management

This webinar describes the three most common forms of trail impact, identifies the most influential factors to develop and maintain sustainable trail networks, and discusses methods for rating trail sustainability.

Highway-Rail Crossing Handbook

The purpose of the Highway-Rail Crossing Handbook, 3rd Edition is an information resource developed to provide a unified reference document on prevalent and best practices as well as adopted standards relative to highway-rail grade crossings.