Saturday, March 12, 2011

New Ruling Allows Power-Driven Mobility Devices on Trails

Effective March 15, people with mobility-related disabilities will be able to legally use power-driven mobility devices other than wheelchairs to access trails on public lands. This Department of Justice Ruling has been under consideration for awhile, with much input from the disability community and others. It specifically applies to those entities covered under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). In reading through some of the text of the ruling, I find it admirable to see how well considered the needs of people with disabilities are taken by the federal government, although the new law does not apply to federally managed public lands, such as National Parks. State, local, and private land managers are scrambling now to figure out how to integrate the new DOJ ruling into practice, since it will apply to trails not normally open to motorized vehicles. Areas that have been assessed according to DOJ standards may be exempt from the new ruling.

Five years ago at one of our Universal Access Program events in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, a woman on a Segway using the Ashuwilliticook Rail Trail rolled up to talk to us and demonstrate her new mobility device. It was exciting to see the Segway in use, particularly by someone with multiple sclerosis. The Segway is a good example of a power driven mobility device designed for broad public use, with great potential for some people with disabilities. Other examples include golf carts and ATVs.
To distinguish herself from other non-disabled users of the Segway, this woman had affixed a universal access symbol sticker onto her device. Even as I appreciated this thoughtful gesture, I could see how anyone could do it. Indeed, land managers across the country are concerned about the potential for misuse of this new law, since users are not required to prove their disability. As she rolled off down the bike path, a few of us wondered how this new and undeniably cool equipment might present challenging management issues  - even as it liberated more people to enjoy the outdoors.

The Segway isn't common in Massachusetts state parks that I've seen or heard since, though I suspect they show up in our urban parks and bike paths. It made the news last fall when the owner of the company that manufactures Segways died falling off a cliff while using one in England - a good reminder to exercise caution with all motorized recreation devices.

I do hope that those who head for the trails with power-driven mobility devices will be using common sense and have respect for sensitive environments and rules that apply while using such equipment. Read more about the ruling and its application on public lands at the American Trails newsletter online. The American Trails website has a good Q & A section on the new ruling. When planning an excursion or out on the trail it is always a good idea to check in with park staff about trail conditions and any parameters for use that may apply.

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