Red, White and YOU: Celebrating Mobility Independence with Best Practices for Inclusive Walk Audits All Year

This is a guest blog post by Juliette Rizzo. Juliette Rizzo is the former Ms. Wheelchair America, one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women and a national pedestrian and safe streets advocate, as well as a long-time national advocate for inclusive health and wellness. Juliette is a nationally recognized and sought after public speaker and has over two decades of award-winning experience designing and producing large scale, highly visible and accessible public events across the nation and for the U.S. federal government.

As we reflect on our freedoms in celebration of the recent fourth of July and the Americans with Disabilities Act 29th anniversary later this month, I am reminded of a time when my former boss and world-renowned disability advocate, Judith E. Heumann, asked me to help her lead the 10th Anniversary Spirit of ADA Torch Relay, walking and rolling through the streets of Brooklyn

Her words have stayed with me – “ADA, lead the way! ADA lead the way!”

Juliette and participants of the inclusive walk audit workshop at 2018’s Walk/Bike/Places in New Orleans

You’re doing it! You — the enthusiastic city planners, design engineers, special events planners, walking advocates, elected officials, and park rangers — are leading the way for people of all abilities to experience what’s truly possible when everyone is fully included in our communities. And I’m back from my travels conducting inclusionary walking audits around America to share with you what I’ve learned so far and provide you with additional resources to conduct your own accessible walk audits.

Beginning this celebratory month, I was tickled to death to receive a text message from Kate Kraft that she had just seen me on national television on America’s favorite Independence Day celebration, “A Capitol Fourth” broadcast live on PBS, NPR, and the American Forces Network from Washington, D.C.

I shared with her that from the very visible street signage to the two designated accessible viewing areas for guests with disabilities (that included a monitor with closed captioning wrapped in plastic to protect it from the rain) and the informed staff members and park rangers who expertly directed everyone, I saw the Capitol’s commitment to inclusion. And, because of the efforts of all involved, I was that close to John Stamos – AGAIN!

I always joke that, for me, John Stamos will always be the one that got away. As a special events planner, I worked the national Future Farmers of America convention in Indianapolis and was invited to an opening event where the Beach Boys performed. Sitting in the pit below the stage, I was in awe to find John playing the drums with them – and I will never forget the moment he jumped down from that stage, kissed me on the cheek, and went back to playing without missing a beat. I thought of Teen Beat and Tiger Beat — my dreams and my teen magazine pinup clipping had come to life!

“See what’s possible when it’s accessible!” I proudly texted Kate back.

Collectively singing the lyrics to the Sesame Street theme song at the concert, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of Sesame Street this year, I realized everyone can take a walk down Sesame Street, or your own street, and champion inclusion like they do so well.

Juliette and a planner measuring sidewalk width on an audit.

Over the past couple of years, I have engaged in compelling interactions with state and local leaders who have cut through basic compliance to tap the compassion of their colleagues to make a difference by conducting inclusionary walk audits down any street that focus on opportunities to better understand the user experience of people with disabilities.

In Utah, at the statewide Pedestrian Summit, I learned about the critical role accessibility and inclusion play in Utah’s transportation system. As a direct result of our walk audits, design engineers were quickly able to respond to a concern brought to them by two young college students who are blind and immediately implemented audible pedestrian signal buttons in Cedar City.

Juliette leading a walk audit in DC in March 2019. Photo: Washington Area Bicycle Association

At the Washington Region Vision Zero Summit, in collaboration with the George Washington University Hospital and the Highway Safety Office, I learned about infrastructure for all users and how to plan roads for everyone. During our walk audit, we were able to work with a D.C. ADA coordinator to immediately call 311 to improve the timing of a traffic signal by an additional six seconds to better accommodate pedestrians with disabilities. Coverage of the event brought much-needed attention to a number of issues facing DC. 

Juliette and urban planners in Maryland.

In Maryland, I learned from urban planners that if we want to be truly accessible, we must “push past the minimum design guidance provided and press into the spirit of the law, so everyone can move independently and with dignity.” A senior planner who orchestrated the inclusionary walking audit to introduce her peers to the user experience of people with disabilities, informed me the countdown part of a signal for a northern crossing of a major intersection was fixed within hours of the walk audit’s completion.

I need you to help me cultivate even more of these changes and voices to continue to lead the way. As one engineer in Utah shared, “until pedestrians become as important as cars, we each need to do what we can.”

To help you do just that, I want to share with you the beginning of some best practices shared with me for making sure your walk audits are inclusive. Click here to learn more.