Friday, November 1, 2013

Engaging People with Disabilities in the Kansas Health Impact Assessment Project

Report Cover
Inclusive coordinated transportation planning efforts help to ensure that all voices in a community are heard, which is especially important for people with disabilities, people with low income, older adults, and others who depend on public transit. In preparation for a decision about the future Wichita transit system, the Kansas Health Institute in collaboration with local partners and the community of Wichita, Kansas, undertook a massive health impact assessment (HIA) of transit services for various groups of people. Below, Catherine Shoults, health analyst at the Kansas Health Institute (KHI), details how people with disabilities were engaged in the process. 

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One of the basic tenets of HIA is engaging the community and incorporating the community voice in the assessment. Additionally, community engagement is critical for understanding the potential effects of the policy or legislation on the local population. This is especially true for people who do not drive, such as those with disabilities, as they might be disproportionately affected by policy changes. In order to engage people with disabilities and other non-drivers in the transit HIA process, KHI partnered with the University of Kansas School of Medicine – Wichita (KU). Our KU partners had relationships with local disability organizations, such as the Central Plains Area Agency on Aging and the National Federation of the Blind.

During the HIA process, we learned a few lessons regarding how to maximize the  disability community’s experience and engagement in the HIA. For instance, we learned that the best way to work with one of the representatives from the blind community was to send her the materials in advance whenever possible and to make sure that one of our team members was nearby during in-person meetings to verbally describe the visuals. We were also very fortunate because one of our stakeholders worked closely with the representative for the blind community and he was very comfortable describing visual elements to her. He would also pick her by car up to come to our meetings, which was invaluable.

Woman presenting to a small audience

Tatiana Lin, project director and strategy team leader at KHI,
presenting the results of the HIA to the Wichita City Council
The insights provided by people with disabilities, older adults, people with low-incomes, and other non-drivers helped us to shape the HIA findings and recommendations and make sure that they focus on the needs of those who do not drive. For example, one of the recommendations focused on the need to locate bus stops near service locations and connect them to sidewalks and pedestrian paths in order to improve access to buses.

We also have to commend the Wichita Transit agency for working very hard to keep the needs of non-drivers in mind. Often a representative from Wichita Transit would point out what they were doing and how they hoped to improve their service to the disability or older adult community.

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By engaging the disability community in their HIA, Wichita is better able to create a coordinated transit plan that serves all members of the community. See the results of the full analysis published in the online report, Potential Health Effects of Proposed Public Transit Concepts in Wichita. For more examples of Health Impact Assessments, see the Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts, through which Wichita received a grant for their project. For more resources on inclusive coordinated planning efforts, visit ESPA’s webpage, Planning and Public Participation.

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