The ADA and COVID-19

July 1, 2020

Written by John McGovern

We are in a rapidly evolving situation.  A pandemic made visitors unwelcome to facilities, programs, and parks operated by cities, counties, villages, and park districts. Some professionals are in states that just opened recreation programs and facilities in June, some are in states with programs open sometime in July, and sadly, some are in states where a second wave of coronavirus has reclosed parks, programs, and sites. 

Importantly, each state is different.  On June 29, the Governor of Arizona ordered restaurants and bars and fitness facilities to close for a month, due to surges in positive test results.  Texas and Florida took similar steps in late June, particularly with regard to bars, but not necessarily for a month.  On June 30, New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York ordered that travelers to those states from 14 western and southern states where positive test numbers are rising, must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in the New York metro area.

Throughout the pandemic, several constants are clear. One is demand by people with and without disabilities for recreation.  Success stories are found at many agencies as they meet ADA mandates and address Covid-19 restrictions.  The Department of Justice has made it clear that the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and any Covid-19 restrictions must coexist.  One does not overrule the other.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

The CDC leads the fight against the pandemic. It’s recommendations guide agencies as camps, programs, and facilities reopen.  CDC acknowledges that discrimination on the basis of disability violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

DOJ Requirements

The DOJ mandates agencies serve people with disabilities and offers guidance about parks and recreation programs.  Ask yourself:

  • Do you welcome people with disabilities in programs?  Across the board exclusion fails, and jeopardizes the agency.
  • Do you provide support for people with disabilities?  Requests for a sign language interpreter, extra staff training, better staff ratio, policy changes, using adaptive equipment and transportation, should be met with a “yes”.
  • Do you consider objective information about a person with a disability posing a direct threat? Mask wearers protect others from the spread of Covid-19 by “respiratory droplets”.  Persons with or without a disability who cannot wear a mask in programs merit a discussion about direct threat.  Similarly, some children with certain conditions may spit or bite other participants or staff.  Zero tolerance to those behaviors may be acceptable.  This must be actual or objective…saying “I think he is a threat” fails.  Incident reports, current and past, are necessary to navigate Covid-19.

The bottom line?  This is an evolving circumstance, and each state is different.  That makes it difficult to take what works in one state and easily apply it to another state. Balancing the Covid-19 restrictions with the ADA mandates is an important risk management approach.  Each reader of this article has implemented workplace rules to address the spread of the coronavirus. Do remember that there is an ADA aspect to this public health crisis as well.

WT Group leadership has said that we would rather look back in October and say “hey, maybe we did too much in response to Covid-19”, instead of looking back in October and realizing we didn’t do enough.

If you have questions about the interface between the ADA and Covid-19 restrictions, or want a webinar on this subject, reach out to John McGovern at