Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Walking Equity: Including People with Disabilities in Planning and Programs

By Whitney E. Gray

Many transit agencies have well-developed coalitions or advisory committees focused
on accessibility that include representatives from the disability community. As communities across the U.S. expand transportation options beyond fixed-route buses and trains to incorporate new or updated bicycling and walking facilities, one important thing communities can do is include people with disabilities in planning and project discussions. Listening to the comments and suggestions of future users is one way to make sure that transportation modes are accessible to as many people as possible.

Walking is a form of transportation which can be overlooked but is especially important as Americans’ daily lives have become more sedentary than those of past generations. At the recent Every Body Walk! Walking Summit held in Washington, D.C., October 1-3, walking advocates from across the country gathered "as part of a movement to boost the prevalence of walking and increase the ease of walking or walkability" (Oct. 1 Press Release). Participants included professionals from the fields of advocacy, development, business, education, and government.  

www.pedbikesimages.org / Dan Burden
Walking equity was a main point of conversation, and many participants emphasized the need to consider the abilities of all members of a community when planning walking paths and trails. In her AARP Blog posting, The Infrastructure of Inequality, senior strategic policy adviser Jana Lynott acknowledges the Summit for their focus on equity. “[W]e, as a society, need to put pedestrian accessibility on equal footing with funding for other transportation improvements,” Lynott writes.

At the Summit, Easter Seals Project ACTION was pleased to take part in the discussion of how communities can increase the amount of walking that people do for fun, for exercise, and to get around. At the Community Share Fair on October 2, ESPA staff spoke with Summit participants about walking projects in their communities. One participant was looking to expand a walking program for older adults to include the use of indoor spaces in cases of rain. ESPA staff also spoke to two featured guest speakers, Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Gray, who will be videotaping their 500-mile trek across northern Spain (visit www.IllPushYou.com). As Skeesuck uses a wheelchair, the friends seek to promote physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health and wellness through the documentary. Overall, participants at the fair seemed motivated to making walking a reality for everyone regardless of age or ability.

ESPA encourages cities and towns to help make their communities walkable/navigable for all, and perhaps most importantly, make sure children both with and without disabilities understand the importance of access to and participation in outdoor activities. Together, we can create livable cities that are inclusive for all. For more information, see ESPA’s webpages on Accessible Pathways, Livability, and Wayfinding.

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