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Prelude to Drafting the Original ADA Bill - Part 4

Dave Park and Accessibility of Parks, Public Monuments, and Other Outdoor Areas

I found Dave’s presentation highly informative and interesting, consistent with a very high opinion of him I had already gained from my prior interactions. I had met him through Andi, to whom he had been a valuable mentor, former boss, and long-time friend. Shortly after becoming friends with Dave and his wife Viki Annand (like Dave, a heavy hitter in the therapeutic recreation field), Dave and I started “talking shop.” He was familiar with my Washington Post piece on accessibility problems at Ford’s Theatre and the Kennedy Center, and Jill Robinson’s discrimination complaint that grew out of it, and we quickly found that we had overlapping and complementary areas of interest. I was advocating legal standards requiring increased accessibility for people with disabilities and Dave had years of experience seeking to establish and apply accessibility standards in practically workable ways, particularly in the context of recreation facilities, parks, public monuments, and other outdoor areas. As we later worked together on aspects of the ADA proposal, our collaboration would become very significant, and particularly valuable to me.

Dave’s career path in therapeutic recreation had begun during college with a part-time job as a recreation assistant at Eastern State Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, one of the country’s oldest psychiatric hospitals. He found the conditions at the hospital at that time to be quite bad, and residency there was largely a dead-end for the patients, as the average length of stay was 37 years. Dave later saw an old movie, The Snake Pit (1948) starring Olivia deHavilland, about a woman confined to a mental institution (the conditions portrayed in the movie were sufficiently disturbing that they fostered reform efforts around the U.S.[1]), and he said that when he worked at Eastern State Hospital it was such a “snake pit.” Upon graduation, he took a job as assistant director of a facility for individuals with intellectual disability. Subsequently he earned a master’s degree in therapeutic recreation from the University of North Carolina. From 1969 to 1975 he was Executive Secretary of the National Therapeutic Recreation Society, a branch of the National Recreation and Park Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of public parks, recreation, and conservation. In 1975, he became Director of the Therapeutic Recreation Graduate Program Studies at the George Washington University, and worked there until 1980 when he became the first Chief of the Special Programs and Populations Division at the National Park Service (in the U.S. Department of the Interior), and its Accessibility Program Coordinator, a position he held until his retirement in 2008. Along the way, Dave promoted recreation opportunities at the national level through his involvement with the White House Conference, the Interior Department’s Nationwide Outdoor Recreation Plan Task Force, and activities with the President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped.

In 1984, he co-wrote, with his Special Programs and Populations Branch colleagues Wendy Ross and Kay Ellis, a classic booklet titled Interpretation for Disabled Visitors in the National Park System. In the context of this publication, the term “interpretation” was used in a broad sense of interpretation that the Park Service considers integral to its management and operation for all visitors, with disabilities or not. The idea is that all those who use park facilities, services, and opportunities benefit from the assistance, advice, and educational commentary of park employees and volunteers. The purposes of the booklet were to provide information and guidance to interpretive personnel to enable them to be optimally effective in their interactions with people with disabilities, and to inform park supervisors and management regarding how park facilities and programs should be structured and operated, and modified when needed, to provide a beneficial, enjoyable park experience for visitors with disabilities. After some basic information on laws, policies, and guidelines; the disability movement in America; methods, techniques, and assumptions; integrated programs; and “avoiding assumptions on ‘capability’ based on disability,” the booklet’s major section delineated guidelines and resources for interpretive services for each of several categories of disabilities: mobility impairments, visual impairments, deafness and hearing impairments, mental impairments, and learning impairments. The final section of the booklet addressed comprehensive planning and implementation. The volume, though somewhat dated today, is quite a good touchstone for many kinds of services to the public, not just park and recreation programs and facilities.

Continue to Part 5: What Is a "Wheelchair" and Is a Person Who Uses One a "Pedestrian"?

[1] Nick Clooney, The Movies that Changed Us: Reflections on the Screen (Simon & Schuster, 2002), p. 144.

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