Parks across New York State were found to have inaccessible entrances and restrooms, obstacles on access trails and paths, and limited parking for people with disabilities, according to an audit released today by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. The Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (Parks) oversees more than 250 parks and historic sites and works to ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). While the parks examined generally met the ADA’s minimum standards, auditors found they could be significantly improved to make them far more accessible.
“New York State strives to promote inclusivity and broad access to all the resources it has to offer, and this includes our state parks and historic sites,” said New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. “The Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation recognizes the importance of improving accessibility to the New York State parks system, but must do a better job incorporating this goal into its processes for maintaining and operating its sites, and improve its communications with and responsiveness to the public.”
Auditors reviewed 40 parks across New York State from January 2018 to October 2022 and examined 1,446 amenities such as restrooms, campsites, swimming areas, playgrounds, pavilions, elevators, boat launches and parking. Auditors found that 62% of them could be improved to enhance accessibility. These included correcting mislabeled ‘accessible’ signage, fixing rough or uneven access routes, increasing the number of wheelchair accessible stalls in restrooms and ensuring there are more accessible, clearly labeled parking spaces.
Several parks had accessibility information misrepresented online, while others had incorrect accessibility signage on-site. During the audit, parks officials said they would take steps to improve the accuracy of the posted information.
The audit found some parks had taken steps to improve accessibility. At many beaches and pools, wheelchairs were available and mats were put down to improve access to the water. Signage for such amenities were prominent at some parks, while others offered unique amenities. For example, Midway State Park offered a wheelchair accessible playground, and Letchworth State Park had an Autism Nature Trail, featuring sensory stations to help children with autism and all visitors explore nature. Braille was also on all signage along the trail.
In 2015, Parks developed a Transition Plan as required by the ADA after identifying physical obstacles for people with disabilities at its parks and historic sites. However, auditors found that the plan did not include a specific timetable for making accessibility improvements, had not been updated for eight years, and little action had been taken to implement the plan’s provisions. Staff at state parks said they perform periodic walk-throughs or try to address complaints related to accessibility, but most were not aware of the plan.
The audit also found Parks did not establish grievance procedures as required by the ADA. Although Parks provides a general complaint form and email address for patrons to contact, the agency had not established or published procedures to ensure fair and prompt resolution of complaints, as required. Instead, each park developed its own process for handling and tracking complaints related to accessibility, which makes it difficult to determine if they were adequately addressed. Auditors reviewed 27 complaints at 14 parks, and when those parks were visited, it was observed that little had been done to address the complaints.
Additionally, the ADA requires Parks to have at least one ADA Coordinator responsible for coordinating compliance with the law and investigating related complaints. This person’s name and contact information must also be made available to the public upon request, but Parks could not definitively identify who filled the position from January 2018 to March 2022. It was determined the position was vacant for at least four months, but possibly longer. During the audit, Parks assigned a new ADA coordinator in March 2022.
Comptroller DiNapoli recommended Parks:
- Incorporate accessibility into its processes to operate and maintain parks that covers:
- Communicating and training park staff on ADA requirements.
- Monitoring new construction and alteration projects to ensure ADA compliance.
- Developing procedures to record and address accessibility complaints.
- Assessing potential barriers to accessibility and addressing potential improvement areas identified in the audit and the Transition Plan to the extent feasible.
- Improve accuracy of publicly reported information on accessibility, both online and through park signage.
In response, Parks agreed with the audit’s recommendations, and as a result will conduct a multi-faceted review of its policies, facilities, and programs to improve accessibility.