WASHINGTON, D.C. — What good is an accessible vehicle if getting around town is impossible? National Organization on Disability (N.O.D.) recently recognized three towns that make hitting the town a little easier: Cambridge, Mass.; West Hollywood, Calif.; and Austin, Texas. The towns won the fifth annual Accessible America Contest and are being heralded as national models for their focus on disability issues and successful design of programs, services and facilities that are accessible for citizens and visitors who have disabilities.
The five leading national disability advocates and experts who served as Accessible America Contest judges chose the winners based on comprehensive accessibility and opportunity for people with disabilities. While there were elements common to each of the 10 cities chosen as finalists, Cambridge, West Hollywood and Austin distinguished themselves in ways that elevated each as a national model.
Cambridge, Mass., which received the top prize of $25,000, wooed the judges with its fleet of seven accessible taxicabs that give priority service to elderly and disabled passengers, charging the same rates as traditional taxis and accepting Taxi Discount Coupons provided for residents who have a disability or who are 60+ years of age. Other best practices include: a Facade Improvement Program that provides matching grants to sales or service establishments for creating accessible storefront entrances; partnerships with the local Office of Tourism and Chamber of Commerce to supplement information on access distributed by the city; an inclusion specialist who provides community schools, childcare and family support programs, recreation and youth center staff with onsite coaching and help in developing or adapting existing activities to include children with disabilities; and a Cambridge Commission on Persons with Disabilities board member, who has a disability and was appointed by the city manager to serve on the Local Emergency Planning Committee.
West Hollywood, a multi-generational city that has been identified as a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC), received a $20,000 cash award. Several important measures ensure accessibility and safety for people with disabilities including: widening of sidewalks and providing curb-cuts at every corner; upgraded pedestrian push buttons on traffic signals to the big 2-inch diameter button; installation of audible and count-down pedestrian crossings at some signalized intersections to tell people when they can cross the street and how much time is left for crossing before the light will change; and zebra striped high-visibility crosswalks to make pedestrians more visible to motorists.
Also advocacy efforts of the city’s Disabilities Advisory Board result in greater enforcement of businesses that encroach onto the public right of way and thus create too narrow a path for people with disabilities; a raised garden bed created in a community garden promotes socialization and enhances emotional and physical well-being for people with disabilities; and a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) includes community members with disabilities and emergency preparedness information (emergency checklist, a disaster supplies kit, an emergency plan, an evacuation plan and a fire safety plan) is designed for and distributed to people with disabilities.
Austin, winner of a $10,000 cash award, impressed the judges with its Visitability Ordinance requiring home builders using public funds to incorporate accessibility requirements allows homeowners to age in place. Other best practices include a S.M.A.R.T. Housing Program that provides incentives to private home developers who voluntarily adopt Visitability requirements; community and disability organization involvement in the Community Conversation 2005 accessible online survey that gathered local input on a range of issues tied to the participation gaps in the 2004 N.O.D./Harris Survey of Americans with Disabilities; training from individuals with disabilities for all 1,350 police officers and a statue of Barbara Jordan (America’s first African-American U.S. Representative with a disability) at the Austin Airport with the inscription “Out of many we are one” to convey the community’s welcoming philosophy.
The Accessible America Contest, administered by N.O.D.’s Community Partnership Program, is sponsored by grants from UPS and Wal-Mart.
Other 2005 contest finalists were Arlington County, Va.; Berkeley, Calif.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Indianapolis; Nashville, Tenn.; New Haven, Conn.; and Pittsburgh.
Previous Accessible America winners include Venice, Fla.; Irvine, Calif.; Phoenix; and Pasadena, Calif.
For information about entering the 2006 Accessible America Competition, contact N.O.D. at (202) 293-5960. The deadline is Oct. 31, 2006. For more information, visit www.nod.org.