Community Voice: Program Spotlight – Programs to Educate All Cyclists (PEAC)
John Waterman was a public school teacher in Battle Creek, Michigan in 1988 when a student from the special education classroom was hit by a car while riding his bicycle at night (without a helmet) and was severely injured. This tragic event moved John to initiate a bike safety program for kids with disabilities. As important as it is to provide various types of cycling accommodations for kids with disabilities, they all mean very little unless basic training and safety is being practiced. What began as a safety program, and even hooked John’s interest so much as to get him involved in racing, now involves teaching cycling skills to more than 500 kids each year.
John integrated into bike clubs the old-fashioned way, by joining and then showing up with a student (often with a visual impairment) and riding with them. These students became inspirations for local bike clubs who would often turn around and volunteer with PEAC by riding with students and families, repairing and maintaining equipment, and/or making donations.
In 2004 the bike program officially became PEAC, a non-profit organization, and John began his role as the full-time director, with Erin Shelton serving as the full-time program coordinator and an additional 8 to 12 staff members helping to run the summer programs. Staff training is extensive and many senior members of the staff have League Cycling Instructor (LCI) certifications from the League of American Bicyclists.
PEAC’s mission is to work toward whatever goal an individual sets. Since students set their goals, there is a lot of variety. The goals range from an individual aspiring to get to work independently to a child desiring to take part in family rides to athletes training for the Paralympics. Although most kids in the program have disabilities, PEAC is not just for those with disabilities. The skills learned make cycling easier and more fun for EVERYONE. A brief description of PEAC’s programs follows:
- Family Rides: After time, John realized that the cycling skills they were teaching were not being used outside of the program. He started family rides in order to target the students' entire support system and hopefully increase adherence to the skills. These family rides are largely instructional, but the intent is more for the entire family to enjoy this time together.
- Summer Program: The full summer program offers 1-hour training sessions throughout the day at seven different sites. These summer sites are covered by local organizations, but private lessons are also available.
- Two-wheel skills: In addition to teaching cycling skills to the actual cyclist, PEAC has also created a program to teach 2-wheel skills in which individuals (often parents) are taught how to “walk” the bike. This helps parents of kids with disabilities, as well as parents with disabilities, learn the skills needed to assist his or her child with learning and practicing cycling skills. These walking skills involve an efficient, gentle sequence of steps with essentially no risk of falling.
- 2x2 Club: This is a volunteer program that pairs sighted tandem captains with stokers who are visually impaired or blind. This program allows people with visual impairments to ride on a regular basis with a variety of people for physical exercise, just to get outside, and/or to socialize.
- Celebration of Cycling Event: In addition to training programs, PEAC has held the Celebration of Cycling annually for the past 15 years. Various distance options are offered, from a 12-mile traffic-free course to a 100-mile route through the countryside. Everyone from families to competitive cyclists is encouraged to ride in this inclusive event.
John quickly discovered that the sport of cycling could be completely integrated for people with and without disabilities, and in 1992 he won the Bogg/Mitchell Award from the Arc Michigan. This award recognizes programs that provide a year-round challenging recreational program for people with intellectual disability in activities that also include participants without disabilities. After earning the recognition of being an expert in the field of Integrated Recreation, John discovered many other opportunities. These opportunities allowed his program to expand its efforts and infiltrate more and more bike clubs, and they also allowed him to create further changes related to cycling.
In John’s opinion, cycling is the true form of transportation. So eventually, and in what seems like a natural progression given that cycling is a viable mode of transportation for those that cannot obtain a driver’s license, John obtained his first grant targeting transportation issues in 1999. A subsequent grant was awarded in 2002 to conduct interviews with a panel of expert cyclists allowing them to create recommendations for an assessment system to determine what level of independence an individual with a disability needs in order to cycle. Some individuals with disabilities may always need some type of support or assistance, whether it is to ride tandem or only in secluded areas, but they are ALL able to participate. The assessment system John developed is used in PEAC’s training program to only a smal degree. If an individual is going to be out in the community, however, a more extensive rating system is needed. As this assessment system catches on, John is helping people recognize that transportation is a skill, and a skill that is just as important as work skills. An individual can’t work if he or she can’t GET to work. The physical activity benefits are just a bonus in many situations!
These individualized assessments are separated into four levels of cyclists which are briefly described below:
- Participation: This level includes cyclists who require substantial support because they are learning the basic mechanics of pedaling and steering. The individuals in this level may demonstrate difficulty with impulse control or the ability to follow directives.
- Companion Cyclists: An individual in this level, for example, may have a visual impairment and need someone to ride with them as a “pilot,” or an individual with a cognitive impairment may need an additional rider for directives. PEAC has a 2x2 club that trains captains to ride with participants.
- Restricted Independence: This level basically includes everyone, regardless of disability, as we all have self-restrictions such as personal preferences, weather, busy roads, moods, etc. During this stage, personal routes and travel plans are developed.
- Complete Independence: Regardless of disability, a basic novice rider is not completely independent. Therefore, this final level is somewhat elite.
Continuing his quest to make changes in cycling and transportation for kids with disabilities, John is now heavily involved with Safe Routes to School (SRTS), a Federal-Aid program that was allocated to provide funds to states to substantially improve the ability of primary and middle school students (K-8) to walk and bike to school safely. Although children with disabilities are included in the goals of this program, John is among a team of people (including those at NCPAD) making sure it actually happens in each component of the program. For more information go to SRTS. John’s program serves as a model for the nation - everyone is watching! John has determined the following seven tasks that will help his program meet the needs of all the students and help it serve as an appropriate example for others to follow:
- Create a white paper with a road map for success.
- Convene with a group of advocates to meet on issues for safe walking and biking.
- Review and enhance assessments to ensure greatest amount of data.
- Develop a 15-minute module for the Michigan SRTS training coalition that focuses on children with disabilities.
- Create a flyer for participants and parents.
- Develop encouragement and educational activities.
- Consult with local schools.
When John started his cycling safety program, he probably couldn’t have predicted the impact his program has had on its participants and their support systems. He now has the opportunity to make a similar impact on such a variety of other programs and individuals nationwide! Stay tuned to www.bikeprogram.org to keep up with John’s continued progress. We, here at NCPAD, wish him the best of luck and can’t wait to see what’s next!