By Guest Blogger Jeremy Buzzell, Chief of the National Accessibility Branch, National Park Service
2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service – a defining moment that offers an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate our accomplishments as we prepare for a new century of stewardship and engagement.
America has changed dramatically since the birth of the National Park Service in 1916. The roots of the National Park Service lie in the parks’ majestic, often isolated natural wonders and in places that exemplify our cultural heritage, but our reach now extends to places difficult to imagine 100 years ago – into urban centers, across rural landscapes, deep within oceans, and across night skies.
In our second century, the National Park Service must recommit to exemplary stewardship and public enjoyment of these places. This includes renewing our efforts to ensure that visitors with disabilities have equal opportunity to benefit from all that our parks have to offer. That’s why the National Park Service released a five-year strategic plan for improving accessibility in August of 2014.
Our strategic plan has three overarching goals for the National Park Service: (1) Make parks more welcoming to visitors with disabilities through improving our outreach to the disability community, providing better information to visitors with disabilities, and improving the training of park personnel. (2) Ensure that all programs and facilities the National Park Service develops from this point forward are accessible from the beginning. (3) Upgrade our existing facilities and programs to improve their accessibility while preserving their historic and natural features.
While the strategic plan has a five year target for implementation, the changes expected by the plan are intended to live for decades to come. The intent of the committee that drafted the plan was to spur culture change throughout the organization and move us to where accessibility is not an enhancement to what we do but is instead embedded in what we do.
While the National Park Service works to ensure better accessibility, it doesn’t mean we don’t have accessible places and features for individuals with disabilities to explore today. Parks around the country have created accessible trails and campsites, added captioning and audio description to videos, installed tactile features and created alternate formats of written materials.
For example, in the past year, the National Park Service initiated a series of projects that will create accessible waysides on a ten mile tour loop at Saratoga National Historical Park, accessible trails at Devil’s Tower National Monument and Mammoth Cave National Park and accessible boating and camping at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Every park website should have a description of its accessible features under the Plan Your Visit link or you can contact the park directly looking for tips about accessible experiences available wherever you want to visit. During this centennial year, we encourage every individual with a disability to find your park.
Copies of All In! Accessibility in the National Park Service, 2015–2020 can be found on our website at: https://www.nps.gov/aboutus/upload/All_In_Accessibility_in_the_NPS_2015-2020_FINAL.pdf
About the Guest Blogger
Jeremy Buzzell is the Chief of the National Accessibility Branch for the National Park Service. He is responsible for providing assistance to parks nationwide to make their programs and facilities accessible to individuals with disabilities. Jeremy has been in Federal service as an ally to the disability community for fifteen years. He spent eight years at the U.S. Department of Education working on programs to support education, employment, and community living for individuals with disabilities. He also was honored to spend a year-and-a-half working on disability legislation for the late Senator Edward Kennedy. Jeremy moved to the Transportation Security Administration and headed the branch responsible for ensuring that airport security was accessible to and protected the civil rights travelers with disabilities. Prior to joining the National Park Service, he worked for the Chief of Support Operations at the Library of Congress, assisting with facilities management, security and human resources.