Planning for Action
The implementation of an accessibility management program requires a comprehensive assessment of the current state of access within the organization and a purposeful vision for the future. This assessment should identify all physical, communication, policy, and procedural barriers to programs, services, activities, and facilities. From this point comes the daunting task of prioritizing the removal of barriers to facilitate participation among people with disabilities. In all cases, this will require planning for action at all levels of the organization and in most cases this, too, will require systems change. Kotter (p. 21) suggests an eight-stage process for creating major change: 1) establishing a sense of urgency; 2) creating the guiding coalition; 3) developing a vision and a strategy; 4) communicating the change vision; 5) empowering broad-based action; 6) generating short-term wins; 7) consolidating gains and producing more change; and 8) anchoring new approaches in the culture. This process can be adapted to serve as a guide for implementing an accessibility management program maximized for its greatest potential.
- The agency head establishes a sense of urgency by committing to inclusion and providing a sense of direction for staff. In May 2006, Sue Masica, Associate Director for the National Park Service, was called to testify in front of the House Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation and Public Lands regarding disability access to the national parks. As a result of congressional inquiry, several orders have been issued to the National Park Service units within the last 6 months reiterating the agency's commitment and calling for purposeful consideration toward accessibility in construction and program development.
- A guiding coalition is created, shared values are clarified, and responsibilities are delegated. In 1992, the Rockford (Illinois) Park District created an access team and a citizen advisory committee on barrier removal. The access team consisted of the accessibility coordinator, a deputy director, the manager of design and construction, the chief of maintenance, the purchasing officer, the risk manager, a recreation program specialist, and a representative from human resources. The citizen advisory committee consisted of Rockford citizens with disabilities, parents of children with disabilities, special education teachers, rehabilitation specialists, and advocates from the local center for independent living. These two groups, combined as a coalition, have successfully guided policy decisions and capital improvements for accessibility within the park district for more than a decade.
- Information is gathered for strategic planning. In 2005, the Arlington Heights (Illinois) Park District, through the services of the National Center on Accessibility, conducted a comprehensive accessibility assessment of more than 50 of the district's neighborhood parks, regional parks, and major facilities. The accessibility assessment includes identification of all physical barriers to the parks and facilities, and recommendations for barrier removal. Now district staff is at work strategically prioritizing accessibility improvements, considering factors such as visitor use, geographic location, similar facilities/community resources, and facility life cycle.
- Communicating the change vision. As is the case with the Arlington Heights Park District, the director has set a clear vision for improved access to district facilities and key staff including landscape architects, planners, programmers, and administrators meet on a regular basis to communicate updates along the way, prioritize, and continually evaluate through the process.
- Consensus is built and empowerment leads to broad-based action. According to Masica (2006), 'the NPS has approached the issue of accessibility in parks in a comprehensive and organized way, rather than on a project-by-project basis, through the creation of the Accessibility Management Program. The primary goal of the program is to develop and coordinate a system-wide, comprehensive approach to achieving the highest level of accessibility that is practical, while ensuring consistency with the other legal mandates of conservation and protection of the resources we manage.' However, with an organization as large as the National Park Service, with more than 300 parks and historic properties, empowerment was necessary at the park level. So an accessibility coordinator was assigned for each park, region, and program office. Through this strategy, accessibility improvements too numerous to mention have been implemented, many without the need for involvement from the Washington office.
- Generating short-term wins. Upon completion of its accessibility assessment in 1992, the Rockford Park District identified several million dollars in needed accessibility improvements. With a limited capital improvement budget ranging between $20,000 and $100,000 annually, completing all projects identified in the assessment would take several years. Achievements in accessibility improvements have been noted annually in reports to the district's board of commissioners and most importantly to Rockford citizens with disabilities by publication in the semi-annual program guidebook, brochures and website. And staff maintains a sense that action on the short annual list of improvements is making a holistic impact on the overall big 'to-do' list.
- Consolidating gains and producing more change. Dealing with a depleted playground maintenance budget and only left with dollars for capital improvements, the City of Detroit planners made a conscious decision to only plan new playgrounds with unitary rubber surfaces instead of loose fill materials which typically require more maintenance and fill. Concerned about the longevity of unitary rubber surfacing, planners worked together with purchasing agents to write bid specifications requiring playground surface vendors to perform surface testing for impact attenuation and safety immediately upon installation and again after 1, 2, 4, and 5 years. This bid specification is one of the first known of its kind in the United States, and promises to change the process of purchasing playground surfaces are purchased and quantifying product claims.
- Anchoring new approaches in the culture. Through the leadership of Betty Siegel, Director of Accessibility, services for patrons with disabilities at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., are regarded as an extraordinary model nationally. With support from top administrators, Siegel has developed a small group of accessibility coordinators for theaters into a national network on cultural access and the largest annual meeting specific to the issue. The Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability (LEAD) is the largest annual event for accessibility coordinators in theaters, cultural centers, and sports arenas to come together and learn about best practices for serving patrons with disabilities.
Steps 1-4 require clarity and guidance from top administrators, while Steps 5-8 can be accomplished by committed mid-level managers throughout various units of the organization. Change from top management is often referred to as dramatic change, whereby change from the bottom, at the grass-roots level, is considered organic change. Management theorist Henry Mintzberg argues that there is a rhythm needed for change for it to be successful and lasting. Because dramatic change alone can be just drama, systematic change by itself can be deadening, and organic change without the other two can be chaotic, they must be combined or, more often, sequenced and paced over time, creating a rhythm of change (Huy & Mintzberg, 2003, p. 80). While implementation of an accessibility management program requires commitment and buy-in from the top, it cannot be forced on mid-level managers without their involvement and faith in the process. As much, the process must include an information and fact-finding journey to increase the base of knowledge so everyone involved in the process is making informed decisions and working 'from the same page' toward the same common goal. Comprehensive planning with input from key stakeholders, including citizens, board members, civic leaders, planners, program staff, and others, will become as much of a journey as it is a destination for improved access to parks and facilities.
Often, proposed solutions for accessibility improvements, like paving a trail or allowing service animals where pets are usually restricted, are likely to draw opposition from various stakeholders. It is important to recognize that some people may be pessimistic. Kotter (p. 17) explains that people who have been through difficult, painful, and not very successful change efforts often end up drawing both pessimistic and angry conclusions--they become suspicious of the motives of those pushing for transformation; they worry that major change is not possible without carnage. At times the process may become challenging, frustrating, and even emotional. This is the time when the accessibility coordinator and key stakeholders will need to step back and examine each perspective and opinion to push forward for a creative and mutually acceptable solution for all -- a win-win. In the midst of disagreement and controversy, it is difficult to identify what is going on and the resulting need to step back for a 'timeout.' Managers have to face issues in the full complexity of living, not as compartmentalized packages: knowledge may be important, but wisdom - the capacity to combine knowledge from different sources and use it judiciously - is key (Gosling & Mintzberg, 2004).