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The President's Series - John McGovern
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The President's Series - John McGovern

Jun 2014

Scott Brown, Director of Business Development for the W-T Family of Companies, dives into the professional experience and lives of our company presidents. Next up: John McGovern, J.D., President of Recreation Accessibility Consultants, LLC.  

You have a very interesting niche and background. Can you tell us more about how you first started and what brought you to where you are today?

I was always interested in sports and recreation as a young boy.  At an early age (11), I was diagnosed with a disability.  It instantly changed the way coaches and others, including prospective employers, looked at me.  I was discriminated against pretty early on, in sports and recreation settings, and later in applying for summer jobs.  I did not like that, it felt unfair.  So began my interest in civil rights, along with sports and recreation, in New Mexico, where I grew up.

My interest in civil rights led me to night school at Loyola University of Chicago School of Law.  The evening program is for people working full time, which I was, at a park district partnership providing services for people with disabilities in the Oak Park area.  That job really shaped my beliefs…what we do isn't about delivery of a product, it is all about service; service to our customers, their residents, and their citizens.  Service first, and all else will follow.  In fact, that's how I wound up on the federal advisory committees that created the new 2010 Standards.  I volunteered.

Before Scott Triphahn talked me into coming here, I had always worked for local governments, making sure that people with disabilities were able to enjoy the benefits of parks and recreation.  It is different now that I am a consultant and not a service provider.  But the same principles from local government service hold true in business.  First is service.  Second comes growth.  Finally, third comes profit.  But without service, there can be no growth and there will be no profit.

What intrigued you about access and inclusion?

Aside from my personal interest, I had heard from hundreds of families about how access to recreation improved the quality of life for their child, sibling, spouse, or friend with a disability.  That's really what recreation access and inclusion is about…improving the quality of life.  I can't imagine a day without social interaction or recreation or sports…can you?  Just because a person has a disability, they should not be kept from those same enjoyments.

I have mentors who worked in parks and recreation, but the parent advocates I grew to know touched me more than any others.

Through our marketing efforts together, I often hear you say you enjoy "grey area," problems. Can you explain a bit more what you mean by that and how to approach something that doesn't have a clear cut answer?

Anybody can answer the question regarding a black-and-white issue.  For example, we know that an interior door can't require more than 5 lbf (pounds of force) to open.  So…pretty simple…5.1 lbf fails.

But the grey areas, questions that require some interpretation, are the most rewarding.  I like looking at all the factors, weighing all the right answers (there is always more than one right answer) and then picking the answer that optimizes resources, is true to the principle of law, is fair to the person with a disability, and does not break the operating or capital account of the client agency.

The Americans with Disabilities Act is supposed to make business and governments think differently.  It is that process I enjoy the most. 

Why should an entity worry about the American with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

The first reason is that making sites and facilities accessible is the right thing to do.  This weekend I went to Macy's, to a restaurant, to a gas station, to a tavern, to a dry cleaners, to the bank, to the grocery store.  How the heck is it possibly fair that those average, everyday sites, are not accessible to everyone?

The second reason is enforcement.  Enforcement is vigorous.  The ADA is only 22 years old, as it became effective January 26, 1992.  As another generation becomes comfortable with their civil rights here, more and more will be willing to sue or file an administrative complaint.

Local governments are held to a higher standard, but there are plenty of lawsuits, successful actions, against hotels, restaurants, doctor's offices, hospitals, universities, and more.  It is foolish to ignore the ADA.

Look, we can all agree to disagree about whether the ADA was the most important thing for Congress to address in 1990.  But it did…and none of us are Members of Congress.  Today we don't use lead paint.  Today we don't use asbestos as insulation.  And today, one is foolish to disregard the mandates of the ADA.

What makes Recreation Accessibility Consultants unique to our clients?

We have unique experience.  Shelley Zuniga, our Senior Project Manager, and I had careers in local government for more than 60 years.  I have a law degree.  I am one of only two people (a third was a federal agency staff person) to have served on all three of the pertinent federal advisory committees.

We know the access standards.

We know how parks and recreation sites are used.

We know how the enforcement agencies view access and inclusion.

We know how to apply the complex program access test in the ADA title II requirements.

Importantly, we follow through.  Our clients come back, our competitors call us for advice, and the federal enforcement agencies have accepted our recommendations.

Our team is well qualified too.  Terry is almost a Certified ADA Coordinator, and Shelley already is.  Mike Cleary and Jeff Varchmin are Certified Playground Safety Inspectors.  Tanya Scheibe is a Registered Accessibility Specialist by the State of Texas.  And all of our team members get great customer service compliments from our clients.

And don't just think local government.  Both the USAF and the USMC have retained RAC to help the military address the rising incidence of disability amongst Service Members.  We have helped forward-thinking businesses and nonprofits too.


I have heard through the grapevine that you are a registered minister and have performed weddings in several different states. Can you tell us more about this?


In 2005 one of my coworkers came to me and asked if I'd oversee the ceremony between she and her partner, another woman.  I immediately said yes, she was a great employee and a friend.  It was one of the warmest ceremonies I had ever attended.  It really moved me.

After that, word just spread.  I am okay in front of an audience and soon my niece asked me to marry her and her boyfriend.  Then my brother, who had divorced, asked me to marry him and his girlfriend.  Then a close friend, the parents of my youngest son Terry's fiancée, asked me to wed their eldest daughter to a young man of Scottish descent…and I had to wear a kilt.  Than an old friend from New Mexico, appalled that her long-time local Catholic parish would not allow the use of the Church (without a $6,000 fee) for her son's wedding (he was an Air Force Academy graduate living and serving overseas), called and asked if I would officiate for them.  I did, and watched as the groom whipped out his Air Force sabre to fight off the "thugs" who "broke" into the ceremony (you should have seen the reaction by the crowd!).  And then another, and another, and another…

I like doing the weddings.  Have you noticed how happy people are at a wedding?  My job is to listen and then help the groom and the bride tell a story, sometimes long and sometimes short, to themselves and to the audience.  A wedding is a government activity, and I make it clear that if the groom and the bride want a spiritual gathering, or the sacrament of marriage, they must find clergy.

John McGovern

John N. McGovern, J.D.
Recreation Accessibility Consultants, LLC - President

John McGovern has more than thirty years of experience in parks and recreation. He earned his law degree from Loyola University of Chicago School of Law while working in parks and recreation. John consults on access and inclusion for federal agencies, states, counties, park, forest preserve, and conservation districts, municipalities, and other local governments, businesses and nonprofits.

He is interested in applying access concepts to real-life situations and published a handbook for ADA compliance for Illinois park districts in 1991. He wrote a similar handbook for municipal parks and recreation agencies for the National Recreation and Park Association in 1992. Both are still in use today. His goal is to help every agency make parks, facilities, and programs open and accessible for people of all abilities.