Improvements at state facilities and lands statewide to enhance access
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos renewed DEC’s commitment to improving access to lands and waters across the state and commemorated the upcoming 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the first comprehensive law guaranteeing equal rights to people with disabilities. A press release said, “The ADA and DEC's accessibility efforts are succeeding to help people with disabilities fully participate in and enjoy the benefits of DEC's facilities, services, programs, and activities.”
“The outdoors are for everyone to enjoy,” Seggos said. “While we’ve made great strides in accessibility in the last three decades, there is more work to be done. For us, it’s not just about being in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, we want to continue leading as an example for states around the country to follow.”
The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life. Enacted July 26, 1990, the ADA for the first time provided broad civil rights for people with disabilities by setting minimum standards for accessibility for alterations and new construction of all facilities providing public accommodations by state and local governments as well as the business sector. The act also requires entities providing public accommodations to plan for and initiate the removal of barriers in existing buildings to facilitate the accessibility of their programming.
DEC is committed to increasing the range of accessible opportunities available for people to fish, boat, hunt, canoe, picnic, horseback ride, hike and camp. This is achieved in a variety of ways, including through physical design, alternative forms of communication, inclusive programs, and individual accommodation. Many of DEC’s recent actions are also consistent with the governor's 2018 executive order to make New York the first age-friendly state in the country. The state’s focus is on inclusion, as opposed to creating separate programs.
Access Programs and Services
Among the offerings currently available are the New York State Access Pass, which is administered by the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and is available to New York state residents with disabilities for free or discounted use of State Parks, historic sites and recreational facilities. The Access Pass is accepted at DEC campgrounds and day use areas. Information about DEC campgrounds, boat launches and public areas across the state with accessible features including picnic areas, developed and primitive campsites, fishing platforms, boating boarding piers, cartop launches, wildlife viewing platforms, and beach access points can be found on the DEC website.
Service animals are welcome at all DEC sites. DEC also administers the motorized access program for people with disabilities (MAPPWD) to allow a permitted vehicle to travel beyond the reach of certain public roads to areas where others must hike or bike. The permit provides access for those who seek solitude, connection to nature, undisturbed wildlife habitat, and inclusion with fellow sportspeople. Special permits and licenses for hunting and fishing are also available to people with disabilities. Information about this suite of opportunities and more can be found on DEC’s Accessible Recreation web page and ADA accessibility coordinators are available to answer questions and facilitate recreation on DEC lands and waters.
Recreational Opportunities Available
As even more people enjoy the outdoors during the pandemic, DEC is making every effort to make sure there are places near communities across the state with mobility features that improve accessibility to people with disabilities. Under Gov. Andrew Cuomo's “Adventure NY” initiative, DEC is making strategic investments to expand access to healthy, active, outdoor recreation; connect more New Yorkers and visitors to nature and the outdoors; protect natural resources; and boost local economies. Just a selection of locations available include:
•Central and Western New York
√ Hemlock-Canadice State Forest, Livingston County: DEC is installing innovative, saloon-style gates on state lands to increase accessibility to trails and roads. More than 25 have been installed in Livingston County in recent years. Nine gates were installed last winter at the Hemlock-Canadice State Forest, providing an opening that allows easier access for people in wheelchairs and other mobility devices.
√ Oak Orchard WMA, Orleans and Genesee counties: An kiosk with accessible features overlooks Goose Pond off of Albion Road at the Oak Orchard WMA. There is also a path from the parking lot off of Knowlesville Road to an existing pavilion and down to a boardwalk and viewing platform overlooking North Marsh. There are more than three miles of MAPPWD routes on the WMA.
√ Findley Lake, Chautauqua County: The lake has an accessible fishing platform, boat mooring dock and a separate kayak launching platform designed with mobility amenities. Visitors can access the dock and platform from the parking lot using a concrete walkway with railings. Findley Lake provides angling for a variety of sportfish and panfish, including largemouth and smallmouth bass, tiger muskellunge, muskellunge, northern pike, walleye, black crappie, yellow perch, bluegill and pumpkinseed.
The DEC website makes it easy to find accessible recreation destinations. Fishing access for anglers with disabilities are broken down into every area of the state. This is also where to find the application to apply for a permit to use a motorized vehicle on specified trails and request the use of a power-driven mobility device on DEC lands.
DEC reminds all visitors that the agency is here to help. Anyone who needs modifications to DEC policies, practices or procedures in order to participate in a program or activity, should communicate with DEC staff. Any questions relating to the provision of accommodation should be directed to DEC ADA coordinators.
A press release said, “During the state’s ongoing response to COVID-19, New Yorkers across the state want and need to get outside for a nature break, which is good for physical and mental health. Before heading out, take the ‘PLAY SMART * PLAY SAFE * PLAY LOCAL’ pledge, and promise to use common sense to protect yourself and others when enjoying the outdoors. The new campaign encourages all New Yorkers to recreate safely, responsibly and locally this summer, and to always treat fellow outdoor adventurers with respect.”
Cuomo has made New York a national leader on disability rights by promoting key policies and initiatives, including the state’s comprehensive Olmstead implementation plan to serve individuals with disabilities in the most integrated settings. Executive order 136 established the New York Employment First Initiative to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities, and the creation of the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, which protects the safety and civil rights of New Yorkers. Just this week, the governor also launched a new “I Love NY” accessibility hub detailing the many opportunities for travelers with accessibility needs.