In my role as active transportation planner for NIRPC, I am reminded often of the importance of making our streets safe and accessible for nonmotorized users. Although most of my work does focus on bicycle and able-bodied pedestrian access, attention still must be afforded to people with disabilities.
A brief history is helpful here. In 1990, the American with Disabilities Act was signed into law. The ADA is one of America's most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation. It prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life — to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in state and local government programs and services.
To aid with accommodating the disabled community, regulations titled Standards for Accessible Design were crafted in 1991 and have been updated regularly since. These standards have been crucial in ensuring safe and accessible movement for people with disabilities throughout our infrastructure.
On the nonmotorized level, these ADA design standards have proved vital in creating a network of improvements that aid in disabled travel. A simple walk in your community will more than likely reveal a number of ADA design improvements. Most notable are curb ramps at street corners for wheelchair users.
Also evident at these corners are “truncated domes” or textured ground surface indicators which assist pedestrians who are blind or visually impaired. You will also find these on stairs and at train station platforms.
Other improvements to aid travel include accessible pedestrian signals, which are placed at intersections to alert the visually impaired when to cross, as well as keeping sidewalks clear of impediments such as streetlights that block access.
Taken together, these improvements have dramatically improved the quality of life for those with limited to zero ability to drive. As our population continues to age, an increasing percentage of the population will be thankful for these improvements by lessening their dependence on the automobile.
For more information about the ADA, please visit www.ada.gov. As always, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (219) 763-6060, ext. 133. For information on obtaining our free trails map, please visit www.nirpc.org.