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Policy and Practices Guidance from PACIF Loss Control

Many municipalities provide residents with recreation opportunities and programs that can vary considerably depending on the municipal facilities and resources available. It is important for municipalities to be aware that the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires public recreation programs not to discriminate against any individual on the basis of their disability. Therefore, municipalities must make reasonable modifications in their policies, practices, or procedures – when necessary – to afford services and facilities to individuals with disabilities, unless the modifications would either fundamentally alter the nature of the service or facilities or compromise the safety of the individual or other participants.

We encourage you to make it easier to comply with legal requirements by developing policies and procedures for your municipal recreation programs that, whenever possible, accommodate the needs of people of all abilities. The following best practices can help you accomplish this.

1. Designate an ADA coordinator. This person would be responsible for ensuring that the policies and procedures adopted by the municipality are implemented fairly and consistently. He or she would also make all final decisions regarding reasonable accommodation. The ADA coordinator should be identified by name and role in all informational materials, in order to increase the likelihood that a parent or guardian will contact the coordinator in advance of placement to help plan for the child’s successful participation in the program. The ADA does not require a parent or guardian to contact the coordinator in advance or specifically request accommodation, yet such an approach is generally helpful and certainly preferred.

2. Adopt an accommodation and inclusion policy and publicize it through promotional materials and any online resource. This shows the general public that the municipality recognizes its legal obligations and has a process in place to maximize the participation of all residents.

3. Explain how to request modifications or accommodation in all program materials and thoroughly publicize the information. If parents or individuals who need accommodations do not see the opportunity to request them, they may believe they won’t be able to participate. An application form or questionnaire can make this process easier. If your department will need prior notice to consider accommodations, note on the registration/application form the differentiated deadline for applicants with special requests. Because accommodation request forms may include protected health information, make sure that all staff have signed a confidentiality agreement and that you retain those records in compliance with HIPAA and other requirements.

4. Design program applications and materials so they don’t screen out or tend to screen out applicants with disabilities, potentially preventing them from fully enjoying the recreation services, facilities, privileges, and advantages of participating in the program.

5. Talk to the parent or guardian soon after receiving an accommodation request. This discussion should help to (a) determine whether the child has a disability for which he or she needs a modification and (b) clearly identify what modifications are necessary. Note that the entire accommodation process should be outlined in the municipality’s written inclusion policy. The discussion will clarify specific modifications needed and determine if these modifications are feasible before granting or denying the request. If you deny a request for modification, document the reason(s) for the denial. In some cases, it is appropriate to obtain legal advice to ensure that the denial decision is reasonable. Your municipality may also consider providing a means of appeal, which would include outlining the procedures in both the accommodation policy and on the accommodation request form.

6. Make good faith efforts to respond promptly to every request for modification. Try to respond in writing within ten days of the date the request is received. If you deny a request for reasonable modification, notify the requester, in writing, of the reason(s) for the denial.

7. Inform staff and train them well. ADA coordinators and others who are responsible for granting or denying enrollment and/or considering requests for reasonable modification should have some experience with accommodation issues. For general program staff, we recommend that they receive awareness training so they can identify someone who may need accommodation and implement accommodation and inclusion measures themselves.

Establishing a process that allows recreation program users to request accommodation is an important first step toward giving everyone the opportunity to participate in recreation programming. Programs that accommodate a wide range of physical and behavioral abilities is also crucial, as they present fewer barriers to people with disabilities. By adopting the best practices outlined here, municipalities will be well on their way to accommodating the recreation needs of all of their residents. PACIF members who have any questions about this topic can contact losscontrol@vlct.org or their loss control consultant.

Jim Carrien, Loss Control Supervisor, and
Fred Satink, Deputy Director, Underwriting and Loss Control
VLCT Risk Management Services