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Wheel-able Neighborhood

Red bricked ramp background with a graphic of a elder woman in a wheelchair and horizotal houses logo
What is a Wheelable Neighborhood

Location, location, location. Those three words summarize how important location is when it comes to real estate. Location can affect the cost of real estate; more money for urban than rural as an example. Until the past decade, real estate listings didn’t bother to provide what factors were considered in determining the higher or lower cost of that specific real estate listing; it was left entirely up to prospective buyers to figure it out or rely upon the real estate agent.

Understanding the connection between housing and the location within the neighborhood has always been the focus for the disability community. Why? The disability community relies on many services, called Home & Community Based Services (HCBS), for everyday living. Relying upon health institutions has meant that the disability community became segregated from society. In fact, it wasn’t until Ed Roberts, a student of UCLA, brought to light that community accessibility is just as important as housing. This idea would lead Ed Roberts to start the Independent Living Centers/movement that we have today.

Ed Roberts, born in California, got polio at the young age of 14 years, requiring an iron lung to breathe. Even before the internet and computers were invented; Ed Roberts attended his local high school by telephone in 1960. When he was admitted into UCLA a few years later, the university dorms were not big enough for his iron lung. He was able to find room and board for him and other students with disabilities in an abandoned wing of a nearby hospital. The students that came together in this abandoned wing of the hospital became pioneers in making the campus accessible and disability-friendly; forming what was initially called the “Rolling Quads” but later became the organization we have today - ADAPT. The Rolling Quads fundraised and advocated one of the first disability services on campus, the Physically Disable Student Program, that provided repair service for wheelchairs.

Ed Roberts and the Rolling Quads didn’t stop with UCLA campus; the Physically Disable Student Program started taking calls for wheelchair repairs from people with disabilities living in the community who were not students. Their focus on the community, and not just the campus, expanded to something that was both simple but profound for accessibility; sidewalk cuts. The Rolling Quads advocated certain sidewalks from the hospital dormitory to the main campus have a ramp, or cut out, to get on and off the sidewalks. As I talked about in another episode, I discussed the fact that the mainstream didn’t feel anyone else other than a person in a wheelchair would use the ramp. With the help of other students, Rolling Quads provided proof that mainstream society would use the ramps through video recording of one of the few sidewalk ramps in the community for a day, showing mothers with baby strollers and delivery men choosing to use the ramp.

Black man with a black cane wearing a masking walking on a sidewalk
Black man with a cane

As you can see, the disability community has been concerned about what services are available in the community near housing and even a finer point; creating walkable sidewalks. Now real estate listings include some scores regarding walkability and other community-based scores. In fact, redfin, Zillow, ReMax, and many others provide these community living scores because the methodology comes from the same source: . Walk Score's mission is to help promote and find communities with walkable neighbors. Walk Score receives grants for academic research that helps governments, urban planning, and real estate agencies to understand neighbors and their communities in the United States and Canada. Through a subscription, the following type of scores are available:

  • Walk Score; Measures walkability based on walking routes to destinations such as grocery stores, schools, parks, restaurants, and retail.

  • Transit Score; Measures transit accessibility. Calculates distance to closest stop on each route, analyzes route frequency and type.

  • Bike Score; Measures bike accessibility based on bike infrastructure, topography, destinations and road connectivity.

  • Opportunity Score; Measures ease of accessibility to nearby jobs without a car.

  • Predictive Analysis; Custom analysis of the impact of the proposed development on Walk Score, including point of interest access and depth of choice.

  • Pedestrian Friendliness; Pedestrian friendliness metrics include population density, average block length and intersection density.

  • Public Transit Data; Public transit data is available for hundreds of transit agencies. Includes location of all transit stops, routes, route frequency, and route type.

  • Score Details; Score Details data includes grocery stores, parks, restaurants, coffee shops, transit locations, farmer's markets, and other nearby businesses.

  • Travel Time Analysis; Map food deserts, park deserts, or play deserts. Analyze school walkability or compute the number of people or jobs within a given travel time.

What is missing; a score that centers around what the disability community, like the Ed Roberts at UCLA, pointing out concerns goes beyond the campus. The scores should be reviewed in order to understand what is available, such as public transit or jobs without a need for a car (opportunity score). Also understanding the average length of the block found in the pedestrian score can help you figure out if you need a ride or can wheel yourself on the blocks.

Three black women walking on a sidewalk. Left; black woman with cane and pink hair, middle is black woman in an electric wheelchair, and right is black woman with white sweatshirt
Three black women walking on a sidewalk

While Real Estate listings have not created walkable or other community-based scores that include the disability community, it should not stop you from continuing your own research through a few good apps once you have selected the geographical location you hope to buy a home. There are three apps I recommend looking into OpenSidewalks, AccessNow, and Wheelmate.

OpenSidewalks is an upcoming platform that wants to map the entire pedestrian experience. OpenSidewalks collects data on sidewalks and networks of path types with detailed attributes like width, surface composition, steepness, and shared traffic. Specifically, the platform understands that there is diversity in pedestrians’ needs; including disabilities. The platform will help wheelchair users map out walkable sidewalks by suggesting sidewalks without steep inclines and much more.

AccessNow - Access Now is a community-driven app that pinpoints accessible locations on an interactive map. You can look up places like restaurants, museums, and attractions and view their accessibility ratings: accessible, partially accessible, patio access only, and not accessible. You can also rate locations and even add your own to help others in the community.

Wheelmate- This free mobile app is designed for people in wheelchairs who need to find accessible restrooms and parking. WheelMate allows users to rate restrooms and parking areas for cleanliness, convenience, and accessibility—so you’ll know which public amenities are a safe bet, and which ones to skip altogether.

These three apps can help you create your walkable and accessible community scores. Having a better understanding of what the neighborhood can offer and you can better gauge whether the location truly meets your own needs.

CALL TO ACTION: If you use any of these apps, please go onto my facebook page and share your experience. I also call on any real estate agent or housing developer to incorporate a Wheelable Score into the sale of homes.

Thank you for Disabled and Here for the photos!

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