My Walkability Barriers
By: Bob Lujano
For the last five years, the word, “walkability” has been defined by many, using different perspectives. Over that time, it has evolved into many different terms that hold various meanings. Today, the term holds a significant meaning to individuals with disability mobility. America Walks has put together a vision of walkability that can be embraced by many:
“Streets and neighborhoods in all American communities are safe and attractive public places that encourage people of all ages, abilities, ethnicities, and incomes to walk for transportation, wellness, and fun.”
This vision is a step in the right direction; however, in regards to people with a disability, the vision can come short when trying to gain the perspective of health equity from a disability standpoint. My understanding of walkability is no different than yours, or America Walks, except that it is shaped from my perspective of exclusion.
Over the last 40 years, living with a physical disability has been such a blessing and, yet at times, an isolated experience that travels on the path of solitude. First, the lonely part of the journey began as a 9-year old youth that lost his limbs and entered the world of disability literally overnight. The journey of isolation continued with education when I was told I would not to go to a public school because it would not be good for a “disabled youth” to be around kids that did not have any limitations. After getting the clearance to be integrated back into public school, it was there that I had been told that my physical education class would be me at a table playing chess or checkers. Of course, this was illegal at the time due to the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, section 504. The lonely journey continued as I then became an adult looking for employment. Even though I had two degrees, I was constantly being passed over for jobs that I was so easily qualified for. It carries on today as I am part of a world that looks to exclude me more than include me.
In November of 2017, I survived a heart attack, but even at the doctor, I was still asked for my weight. Why? – There is not an accessible weigh machine in my doctor’s offices. In my neighborhood, I am the only person with a disability that pushes a wheelchair up and down the streets of my community. The bright side of this though is that I do have accessible sidewalks and a local school that provides use of their track, which allow me to address my secondary health conditions. This very much factored into my decision to live in this neighborhood; however, many people with a disability do not have this opportunity. I bought my house in 2004, but it was only fit to my specifications after talking personally with the owner of the condominium complex and his chief of construction. This was to make sure that I had accessible entrances and bathrooms, which was still a struggle to have completed. Is this the case for other people with a disability? In my neighborhood, I live less than a mile from a YMCA, but yet, I would not be able to push my wheelchair to this facility without my life being in danger. There is not a sidewalk, bike lane, or street access to this facility. Again, this is a common theme for people with a disability.
When I travel, sometimes a public bus is used with a lift, in which the driver has to tell me that they do not know how to operate the lift. The driver typically asks me if I mind waiting a while for another driver to come pick me up. The exclusion ranges from limited access to exercise, employment, housing, and travel. I also have grandchildren that I want to take to the park, but there are only a few parks that I can access to be close to them for safety.
Today, my thoughts are on exclusion in policy, system, and environment (PSE) from a society that says it wants inclusion but has a convoluted way of disclosing it. Maybe it doesn’t know how or maybe it just doesn’t want to know and understand.
So what is walkability to me?
Walkability has this unique opportunity to be a tool to remove the isolation. It has the opportunity to eliminate the fear and be the bridge to unite the PSE. It can be for everyone to have a better understanding of how inclusion for all benefits all. It can be used to include and unite communities, organizations, and societies. It can be the missing ingredient for social cohesion. It can be defined differently by each person and what it means to him or her. Nevertheless, the focus should be on inclusion and impacting PSE.
It would be great for our society to consider inclusion and how it benefits everyone when creating any new laws, new facilities, and new programs. The ideal goal is to live in a society where this is the norm rather than the exception and that walkability is created for every person, with and without disability.