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Eppley-NCA Continues to Focus on Accessibility in Parks Through Training and Assessments

The Eppley Institute for Parks and Public Lands has been a leader in adult education surrounding parks and recreation for many years. As Eppley merged with National Center on Accessibility (NCA), the commitment to the NCA program has been reinforced with creation of modified classroom-based training for park accessibility coordinators to an online format. The new training, Introduction to Accessibility Management, was delivered to NPS personnel in three different cohorts in 2021 and 2022. Participants met virtually over four weeks and completed online courses, assignments, and presentations on a variety of accessibility-related topics. The training taught methods and approaches to enhancing access to NPS sites for individuals with disabilities.

The training has been received overwhelmingly positively by the NPS, and is judged as highly effective which promises to have an important impact on the visitor experience in our National Parks. Some of the feedback Eppley received from the cohort include:

This is the first virtual course I have attended where all information presented/exercises were useful with no ‘fillers’- I learned something from everything I did and the presentations were very engaging!”

The amount of work that Eppley put into the program is amazing. I felt like we were their number one priority during the course, and they seemed to know everything. They turned feedback around quickly.”

Accessibility Assessments

The National Center for Accessibility program (NCA) at Eppley completed several Accessibility Assessments in 2019 to 2022. Robust assessments of Acadia National Park and Edison National Historical Park provided interdisciplinary teams at both sites with critical and detailed information for accessibility improvements ranging from quick-fixes to long-range planning projects. Eppley accessibility assessments always consider the needs of managing a park’s natural and cultural resources while providing visitors with disabilities access to a park’s key experiences of those resources.

Eppley recently added a new model to its suite of services for assessing and addressing the needs of individuals with disabilities in parks and recreation settings: the Collaborative Accessibility Consultation. This approach to assessment looks at accessibility barriers and opportunities from the 30,000-foot view while emphasizing equitable opportunities in the park. Eppley and NPS staff review park sites and programs together, and conversations during the site visit inform and educate NPS employees. This collaborative approach provides the park with resources and specific suggestions to begin comprehensive approaches to accessibility, universal design, and project planning. So far, Fort Donelson National Battlefield in Tennessee and Harpers Ferry National Historical Park have participated in the Collaborative Accessibility Consultation.

Eppley is continuing its work with state and local agencies, as well, by incorporating accessibility reviews into park system master plan projects. These reviews highlight areas of growth for our partners to address physical and programmatic accessibility along with diversity, equity, and inclusion. Monroe and Wabash Counties in Indiana, and the City of Aurora, Colorado, are just some of the recent planning projects incorporating accessibility assessment in their projects. These projects help parks departments improve their services and facilities, while also increasing their eligibility for grant funding.

Justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion are principles fundamental to accessibility work. Increasingly, parks and recreation organizations are requesting assistance incorporating these values into their practice. One example is the accessibility assessment Eppley conducted for Farm Sanctuary’s Watkins Glen, New York, location. In addition to the traditional focus on disability awareness and equitable opportunities for visitors with disabilities, the organization requested Eppley’s assistance with creating and operationalizing an accessibility vision statement. Working with their staff, Eppley helped formulate a statement of equity and inclusion to augment their existing work in that area with a focus on individuals with disabilities. Read the full reports on IU Scholar Works.

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