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Designing for Pedestrians with Disabilities:  Mobility

When most people think about mobility disability needs, they probably think of wheelchairs, the icon for the universal handicapped symbol. And although curb cuts have been required since 1973 and were some of the first reforms that led to the passage of the ADA, wheelchairs are only a small part of a widespread range of mobility concerns. According to the FHWA, persons with mobility impairments include all those who may be limited in method or ability to move about due to a physical disability or other circumstance, whether permanent or temporary. This group represents those who use not only wheelchairs, but also crutches, braces, canes, and walkers. Pregnant women, as well as persons with balance or stamina problems are included in this category as well.

"Some problems that still exist include the lack of or poor curb cuts, which have been required since 1973," says Barbara McMillen. Beyond curb cuts and access ramps to buildings and transit, there are a number of concerns for the mobility-disabled pedestrian. Sidewalks should be well maintained and free of obstacles. Other physical barriers must be removed. Persons with mobility impairments expend much more energy to travel the same distance as a unimpaired pedestrian does to walk it. Tests conducted by the Veterans Administration found that a person moving with crutches or artificial legs uses 70 percent more energy than do walking pedestrians! If a wheelchair user, who expends 30 percent more energy than a person walking, travels to the end of a sidewalk and has to turn around because there is no curb cut, their energy spent equals that of a person who walks four extra blocks.

Pedestrian push buttons for right-of-way crossing must be installed at a place where wheelchair users can easily reach them. Facilities on buses and other forms of transit must also be readily accessible.

Mobility impaired persons are often motorists, too. "Since many mobility impaired persons drive in customized vans where they have a limited range of motion, it's important to standardize things that might be operated from the car, such as parking ticket machines and fast food windows," says Lois Thibault of the Washington, D.C.-based Access Board.

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