Adapting for a Changing World
Our world has changed. In a post-9/11, post-Hurricane Katrina era, public agencies have been forced to adapt and adapt quickly. Overnight security and emergency preparedness have become high priorities without room for error. Organizations nationally and globally have been forced to re-evaluate priorities and adapt for change first for safety and security, and second to simply stay in operation. Public park and recreation organizations must instill flexibility and adaptability as character traits within the organizational culture. We must be able to align strategically for long-term planning, but be adaptable for an ever-changing marketplace. Through adaptability, we have the ability to move quickly toward new opportunities, to adjust to volatile markets, and to avoid complacency (Birkinshaw & Gibson, 2004). Through alignment, we have a clear sense of how value is being created in the short term and how activities should be coordinated and streamlined to deliver that value (Birkinshaw & Gibson, p. 47). For an organization, the balance between alignment and adaptability is referred to as ambidexterity. In short, we need to know where we are going, but we also need to be flexible on the route to get there.
From the accessibility assessment process to the planning process, the barriers to access for visitors and participants with disabilities need to be identified and prioritized for removal. An accessibility coordinator should be assigned for overall coordination, but with the delegation of accessibility compliance laid out across job functions and with the involvement of key stakeholders. Prioritization of barrier removal should include all members of the access team and stakeholders from the community. The prioritization process should be an ongoing, dynamic, and fluid process. What may have been a level-three priority yesterday very likely may become a level-one high priority today. For example, a parks department may have four outdoor swimming pools, all requiring pool lifts for access into the water. However, to address as many different types (golf courses, playgrounds, picnic areas, trails, pools, recreation centers, etc.) of facilities each year as possible, this year's funding allocation only covers the cost for a lift at one pool. Which pool will it be? The access team prioritized a neighborhood pool in the southwest quadrant of the city that has the highest volume of daily visitors. However, a complaint from a citizen with a disability, who uses a pool on the northeast side of the city, may cause the access team to rethink its prioritization, either relocating the new lift to the northeast pool or reprioritizing another project in order to install a lift at both the northeast and southwest pools.
In another example, a city parks department received state and federal funding, prior to the ADA, to build a pedestrian bridge across the river and link two waterfronts used for festivals. Across the river, the pedestrian forks in two directions, the south point of egress is accessible and spills out to the library esplanade, the north point of egress (on the same side of the river) is inaccessible with two steps dropping out to the greenway. During a spring festival, the accessibility coordinator was walking in a large crowd toward the inaccessible egress, did not see the two steps and fell. On Monday, she reported the area as a priority for improvement both for accessibility and for safety considering the volume of pedestrians and likelihood that others may not see the step when traveling in a crowd.
Several access team members disputed the priority as a level one and compromised with the placement of two signs: one on the bridge indicating the direction of the accessible point of egress pointing toward the library esplanade and another near the steps reading, 'Watch your step.' Three months later, a woman fell down the steps, twisted her ankle, and brought a tort claim against the city parks department. Within weeks, the two steps were torn out and replaced with a concrete, accessible ramp. As a result of threatened litigation, the low-priority accessibility improvement quickly became a high-priority safety improvement.
Both examples signify the salient need for the accessibility management program to be adaptable, dynamic, and have a fluid ability to respond to changing priorities within the organization, the community, and the world.