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US National Park Service offers free "Access Pass" to permanently disabled

The US National Park Service offers a free, lifetime Access Pass for admittance to national parks for US citizens or permanent residents who have been determined to medically have a permanent disability. A permanent disability limits one or more major life activities, such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.

Grand Canyon from South Rim
Karin Leperi

The Access Pass permits free entrance to more than 2,000 recreation sites managed by five Federal agencies that include: National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife, USDA Forest Service, and Bureau of Reclamation. In addition, the Corps of Engineers and Tennessee Valley Authority may honor the Senior Pass for entrance or camping discounts.

Those who are qualified can obtain the free pass in one of two ways: 1) In person at a federal recreation site or, 2) through the mail with a processing fee of $10. Either way, applicants must be able to provide documentation supporting permanent disability as well as residency or citizenship. Acceptable documentation can include a statement by a licensed physician; documentation issued by the Veteran’s Administration, Social Security Disability Income, or Supplemental Security Income; or documentation issued by a State agency such as a vocational rehabilitation agency.

According to Candy Harrington, author of "Barrier Free Travel; A Nuts And Bolts Guide For Wheelers And Slow Walkers," the National Parks have come a long way in addressing the needs of disabled travelers. “I would say that almost all national parks have some accessible facilities to them,” notes Harrington. “The Grand Canyon is one of my favorites, as they've really improved access over the past 10 years. Although the mule ride to the bottom of the canyon is not accessible, the Rim Trail, Greenway Trail and all of the shuttle buses on the South Rim are. They also have a nice selection of accessible lodging on the North and South Rims.”

“Of course, access isn’t limited to the Grand Canyon. There’s also elevator access down to the Big Room at Carlsbad Caverns, accessible seating to watch Old Faithful erupt in Yellowstone, the accessible Presidential Trail that offers a great vantage point of Mt. Rushmore, and the barrier-free West Lake boardwalk that puts you up-close-and personal with the alligators in the Everglades. And let’s not forget the new-and-improved accessible trail to the base of Yosemite Falls.” Harrington adds that the National Park Service is really doing a great job in making sure national parks as accessible as possible.

For more information about Candy Harrington and her advocacy and authorship of barrier free travel, see:

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