Imagine wandering through the trials of some of the nation's most beautiful parks on a sunlit autumn afternoon, or enjoying a living version of the way we used to live by touring historic homes and working mills. Now try it in a wheelchair.
Making the most of National Park Service parks is not alway possible for people in wheelchairs, people with visual or hearing disabilities or others who have temporary or permanent handicaps. But National Park Service Director William J. Whalen says, "In all fairness, I must say that the National Park Service, more than a decade ago, began to sense deficiencies in facilities, services and programs for disadvantage people."
In 1965, several years before a federal law upheld the right of access to public facilities for all people, he said, the park service established a policy of moving toward the goal of providing full access for the handicapped.
Now, the National Park Service has put together a book called "Access National Parks: A Guide for Handicapped Visitors." It gives information not only on where obstacles to full accessibility have been eliminated in parks, but where they still exist.
The 200-page book also describes services, facilities and programs designed to enable those with handicaps to see and enjoy almost 300 areas of the National Park System.
"Access National Parks" is available through the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, or by writing to ACCESS, Consumer Information Center, Pueblo, Colo. 81009. It costs $3.50, and the stock number is 024-005-00691-5.
"Access" can also be read at the Library of Congress and a number of other places in the area. Call 426-6700 to find the nearest location. When completed, the Braille and talking book versions will be available at the Martin Luther King Memorial Library in Northwest Washington.
The following is the first in a series of guides to accessibility in many nearby National park Service areas.
Lincoln Memorial - The memorial at the foot of 23rd Street NW, at the west end of the Mall area, offers interpretive services from 8 a.m. to midnight daily. An elevator and access ramp have been installed as an alternate access to the 58 steps in the front of the memorial. A gradually sloping walkway with curb cuts at the street leads to restrooms and drinking fountains, which are fully accessible. Parking for visitors in wheelchairs is marked on the east side of the circle roadway. Tactile signs have been placed in the restrooms. Telephones are accessible, and audio and visual fire alarms have been installed. Sign language tours and other conducted tours can be arranged in advance by calling (202) 426-6895 or 6841.
National Mall - The mall runs from the Capitol to the Washington Monument and includes various buildings of the Smithsonian Institution. More than 100 curb cuts or ramps have been installed in the mall area, which includes the Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln memorials, Constitution Gardens and the Sylvan Theater, the Ellipse, the White House and Lafayette Park, West Potomac Park, including the reflecting pool, the polo field and the site of the Folklife Festival, and the Tidal Basin.
Four fully accessible and equipped comfort stations and accessible drinking fountains are provided. These are near the Sylvan Theater (off Independence Avenue near 15the Street SW); in West Potomac Park near the polo field; on the south of the reflecting pool at the Folklife Festival site and in Constitution Gardens near the lake. The restrooms in the Ellipse and in Lafayette Park are inaccessible. Designated parking spaces are in the parking lot off Constitution Avenue on the Washington Monument grounds and on Madison and Jefferson drives near entrances of the Smithsonian buildings.
Constitution Gardens, between 17th Street and the Lincoln Memorial on Constitution Avenue, has accessible restrooms, curb cuts from Constitution Avenue and leveled curbs on both sides of the Tourmobile driveway, gentle incline grades and other specifications. For general information on the Mall, call 426-6842.
Jefferson Memorial - Located on the south bank of the Tidal Basin, the memorial has an elevator and ramps from grade level to the rotunda, making it fully accessible. Tactile signs have been placed in the restrooms. The fully accessible restrooms and drinking fountains are on the grade level. Telephones are 48 inches above the floor. Audio and visual fire alarms have been installed. The parking lot has designated spaces and curb cuts. Interpretive services are available from 8 a.m. to midnight all year. (202)426-6822.
Washington Monument - This 555-foot monument on the Mall at Constitution Avenue and 15th Street NW is accessible by elevator to the 500-foot level. Return is by elevator or down the 898 steps from which the 190 memorial stones on the walls can be viewed. A portable device is available to elevate those in wheelchairs to the window levels at the top of the monument.
The nearest parking is in the 16th Street parking lot on Constitution Avenue, about 150 yards from the base of the monument. Designated spaces are near curb cuts in the lot near the paved path to the monument. The path has a steep grade with no rest areas. Plans are being considered for level, benched areas on the path. A steep curb ramp is at the end of the path at the base of the monument. A service roadway runs around the monument.
On the east side of the monument, curb cuts are on both sides of the roadway. Curb cuts on the sidewalls are on 15th Street near the Tourmobile loading zone, but the path from 15th Street to the base of the monument is steep, although short. The Tourmobile is accessible only with assistance.
Restrooms for visitors in wheelchairs are on the southeast side of the monument near the Sylvan Theater. Entrance doors are 34 inches wide, and stall doors are 32 inches wide. The path to the comfort stations is level and paved. For more information, call (202)426-6839 or 6841.