To determine if New York City Department of Parks & Recreation facilities were accessible for people with disabilities, as required. Our audit covered the period from January 2015 to October 2022.
About the Program
The New York City (NYC or City) Department of Parks & Recreation (Parks or agency), a mayoral agency, is the chief steward of City parkland. Parks’ mission is to plan resilient and sustainable parks, public spaces, and recreational amenities; build a park system for present and future generations; and care for parks and public spaces. Parks maintains about 30,000 acres of land (14% of NYC), including more than 5,000 individual properties, nearly 1,000 playgrounds, 2,600 athletic fields and facilities, 82 outdoor public swimming pools, 51 recreation centers, 15 nature centers, and 14 miles of beaches (hereafter collectively referred to as “parks”). Its parks are also the setting for a range of attractions, including free concerts, world-class sports events, and cultural festivals.
NYC is home to 8.5 million people, including nearly 1 million individuals with a disability, and based on 2020 estimates from the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, an annual destination for approximately 6 million visitors with a disability. For the nearly 7 million people with a disability either living in or visiting the City, access to parks – and the necessary amenities therein, such as restrooms, sinks, water fountains, and concessions – is critical.
Title II of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against individuals with a disability in all programs, activities, and services of public entities, such as Parks. The U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) regulations implementing Title II adopted ADA Standards for Accessible Design (Standards), which set forth minimum requirements – both scoping and technical – for newly designed and constructed or altered facilities. The Standards may also be used as a guide to identify accessibility issues for existing structures. The DOJ regulations also required public entities to develop a Transition Plan detailing any structural changes that would be undertaken to achieve program accessibility and specifying a time frame for their completion.
As reported in a December 2005 audit by our office, Compliance With ADA Requirements (2004-N-6), Parks facilities did not identify and address potential barriers to accessibility. In response to the audit, and as a step toward enhancing compliance with the ADA, between 2006 and 2009, agency officials conducted assessment surveys of 2,745 properties and facilities. The compiled results of these surveys (hereafter referred to as 2006–2009 Survey or Survey) would be the basis for its Transition Plan.
For fiscal years 2015–2021, Parks’ capital commitment plan totaled approximately $9 billion. In addition, in October 2021, NYC committed about $426 million in new funding over the next 10 years for a Community Parks Initiative. The initiative’s objective is to redesign and rebuild previously neglected community parks, focusing on high-density, low-income areas and parks. Officials indicated that accessibility improvements are a key part of the agency’s work and are prioritized in all public-facing capital projects, including reconstruction and renovations of existing properties as well as the creation of new public spaces.
- While Parks has made progress in making more of its facilities accessible for people with a disability, its accessibility efforts are primarily focused on ensuring newly funded capital projects are ADA compliant, rather than removing identified barriers at existing facilities.
- During our visits to 115 facilities, we found hundreds of accessibility barriers that the agency had identified in its 2006–2009 Survey – more than 13 years ago – that still have not been addressed, including some that pose potential safety risks. For the majority of these barriers, the Survey had classified them as “readily achievable” or “achievable.”
- Among other issues, we also identified restrooms, including toilets and sinks, and wheelchair ramps that were not included in Parks’ assessment surveys of accessibility barriers.
- Agency officials do not adequately monitor concession contractors to ensure they are complying with contractual obligations and other accessibility requirements.
- Agency officials do not ensure that the facility accessibility information posted on its website is accurate and updated. Our on-site observations at a sample of 22 properties contradicted the information posted on the website. This accessibility information is an important service for potential visitors, as incorrect information can ultimately cause an otherwise well-planned visit to end poorly.
- Notably, Parks has not finalized a Transition Plan, nor has it developed formal rules, policies, and procedures pertaining to its ADA compliance.
- We also note that accessibility has not been among the agency’s performance indicators in the Mayor’s Management Reports during the last 10 years. Prioritizing the improvement of facilities’ and amenities’ accessibility and including it as a goal and performance indicator could raise awareness and act as a catalyst for additional funding.
- Reassess the information and status of accessibility barriers identified in the 2006–2009 Survey and revise as needed, review the potential barriers identified in this report to determine if they present accessibility issues, and begin addressing those barriers that can be rectified without much difficulty and expense.
- Finalize and communicate the Transition Plan, establish the timeline, and monitor its implementation.
- Ensure the accessibility information posted on the Parks’ website is accurate.
- Monitor concession facilities’ compliance with contractual obligations and other accessibility requirements.
- Prioritize the improvement of facilities’ and amenities’ accessibility as a goal and performance indicator. Engage with the Mayor’s Office to include accessibility as part of Parks’ performance indicators in the Mayor’s Management Report.
State Government Accountability Contact Information:
Audit Director:Kenrick Sifontes
Phone: (212) 417-5200; Email: [email protected]
Address: Office of the State Comptroller; Division of State Government Accountability; 110 State Street, 11th Floor; Albany, NY 12236