ALBANY, N.Y. (WTEN) — Experts say one in four adults in New York has a disability. A recent audit from the State Comptroller’s Office looked into accessibility for people with disabilities at state parks and recreational sites. The audit looked at 40 parks across New York from January 2018 to October 2022. It found over 60 percent of areas where accessibility could be improved.
Included in this study were a number of western New York parks, including Allegany State Park in Salamanca, Beaver Island State Park on Grand Island and Midway State Park in Bemus Point.
“It’s not a big surprise to me; I’ve gone to several different parks and have encountered issues,” said Alex Thompson, director of Advocacy at NY Association of Independent Living. The study also found information on websites about trail accessibility was inaccurate or not updated.
Thompson knows this scenario all too well, “You know, as someone who uses a wheel mobility device, that’s a big issue. Because I don’t wanna you know, drive two hours to a park and then get there and then find out that I’m not gonna be able to enjoy my time there.”
Thompson said it’s this reason that usually causes him to stick to more updated parks. Exactly what kind of TLC do these parks need?
Mary Mueller, press secretary for the State Comptroller’s office explained, “These are simple fixes, which could mean installing grab bars in restrooms, making stalls wider in restrooms so wheelchairs could fit, making pavement more even – like ramps and access ways, eliminating stairs for example. So these are things that throughout the audit, parks was very collaborative with us on.”
In all, 1,446 amenities were reviewed and 892 of them have the potential for improvement, according to the audit.
Photos from different parks across the state showed grab bars installed in the wrong spots and stalls too narrow for wheelchair accessibility. “These are things we see common in older structures and amenities at the state parks and historic sites. Meaning they were built before 2010 when the ADA put in place these design and construction standards,” said Mueller.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities but did not include any design standards until 2010.
“That’s probably why they were made that way in the first place, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be improved and that’s really what this audit’s highlighting to parks,” explained Mueller.
The Parks Department agreed with all of the audit recommendations and will create a plan to make accommodations within 180 days.