By Amy Rauworth, Associate Director of the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD)
In 1997, Walk to School Day began in the U.S. as a one-day event aimed at building awareness for the need for walkable communities. Expanding to become an international event in 2000, the U.S. joined the United Kingdom and Canada together for the first International Walk to School Day. Each October, International Walk to School Day is celebrated in more than 40 countries and in thousands of schools across the U.S.
Children today are walking and biking to school less than in past generations. This trend coincides with a decrease in physical activity for youth, an increase in childhood obesity, an increase in automobile use, and an increase in pollution from automobiles. The 2017 United States Report Card on Walking and Walkable Communities from the National Physical Activity Plan Alliance is in, and let’s just say we will all have to attend summer school!
The Safe Routes to School National Partnership has developed a national strategy to increase safety and physical activity among youth. The strategy promotes a healthier, more active lifestyle for elementary school-age children that will stay with them throughout their entire lives. It is essential that this strategy include children with disabilities because they are at a greater risk for inactivity than children without disabilities. Fostering physical activity behaviors and teaching pedestrian safety skills at an early age can be essential to adults with disabilities who may not drive and will need to navigate their environment by walking to work, social engagements, and everyday errands.
This October join in the movement to get all kids more active. But don’t just make it a one day event. NCHPAD developed the Discover Inclusive Safe Routes to School Guidebook and How I Walk campaign to promote and encourage the inclusion of youth with disability in walking to school.
The Discover Inclusive Safe Routes to School Guidebook offers extensive insight, recommendations, and resources for creating or adapting a Safe Routes program that benefits all children by utilizing inclusion as a cornerstone principle. Some topics covered in the Guidebook include:
- benefits of and barriers to participation in Safe Routes programs for students with disabilities
- inclusive planning and design accommodation recommendations
- strategies for inclusive participation
- recommendations on promoting the program through various media
- volunteer training recommendations
- additional resources including assistive technology descriptions, sample flyers, further readings, and program evaluation forms
To learn more about and receive the Guidebook and/or to receive any additional information or technical assistance regarding creating an inclusive Safe Routes to School program, please contact NCHPAD.
To get started today, plan a walking school bus and do a quick environmental scan of your route. Questions to consider include:
- Are the sidewalks free of construction and impassable barriers (e.g.
trash cans, mailboxes, telephone poles, signage)?
- Are the sidewalks flat and free of impassable cracks?
- Are there clear street signs posted to help travelers find their way?
- Are there other directional cues to support wayfinding?
- Are there curb cuts available, accessible, free from debris, etc.?
- Are there detectable warning strips (truncated domes) at curb ramps?
- Are push buttons available for walk signals and are they easy to find, reach and use?
- Is there adequate time to cross the street before a signal changes allowing vehicles to enter the intersection?
- Do walking routes frequently change direction? (Makes navigation harder for youth with vision loss in particular.)
- Is there a lot of ambient noise along the route (Excessive stimulation for youth with autism or other developmental disabilities?)
Additional active transport resources:
- Walk to School Day
- National Center for Safe Routes to School
- Checklist for Assessing the Accessibility of Transportation and Mobility
- Pathways to Better Community Wayfinding
Spread the Word! Share this post with your network using this sample tweet: Celebrate Walk to School Day in an inclusive way. @NCHPAD shares tips & resources on BAYW blog. http://bit.ly/2fTFZx2 #HowIWalk