Rolling on to Walk/Bike/Places

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 long-time inclusive health and wellness advocate. Juliette is a nationally recognized public speaker and has over two decades of experience designing and producing largescale, highly visible public events. Click here to contact Juliette. She previously posted about her experiences in public spaces with “I Am a Fan, Too!” and “I Want to Be Invited! Designing Accessible Event Environments that Shape Positive Experiences.”

It’s only fitting I woke up this morning with the song, “When the Saints Go Marching In,” playing in my head. I am headed to New Orleans to the Walk/Bike/Places 2018 Conference to do an inclusionary walk audit and to continue to bring the disability advocacy community together with the walking advocacy world.

Ironically, when I reached out to the University of Oregon to facilitate my registration for the conference, my call was answered by a young student with a disability who disclosed she utilizes a wheelchair for mobility and had been intrigued when she saw our mobile workshop, “Walkability, Roll-Ability, Possibility: Integrating Accessibility Into Your Walking Audits.”

I, too, am delighted that an international conference that is cutting edge around active transportation realizes the importance of accessibility in walkability, enough to help two presenters with disabilities make the trip to New Orleans possible. As I’ve heard before, if you want to change the visible, you have to first change the invisible….and visible we will be, as we put on our walking shoes, charge our power wheelchairs and scooters, grab walking buddies, walking aids and adaptive hand, recumbent or tandem cycles and stroll around New Orleans in a proud, parade-like fashion – along the Riverwalk, past the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, down Poydras Street (stopping at Mother’s Restaurant, of course) and maybe even see a float or two at Mardi Gras World. I am eager to explore a city that locals with disabilities have told me has “made a conscious effort to make sidewalks and streets accessible.”

Walkability, Roll-Ability, Possibility! This is a true example of what must continue to happen to link and combine the disability movements and walking movements to lift up collective consciousness to ensure all walk audits consider all people in the planning process. Speaking of walk audits, and in preparation for the workshop, I applied for and was selected to take a walk audit facilitator training in Maryland by the nation’s foremost expert on walking- the entertaining, persuasive and knowledgable Mark Fenton.

At the training, Mark and I spoke about the need to bring together stealth teams to do walk audits. We discussed how these teams need to be both inclusionary and interdisciplinary. A stealth team consists of partnering with the local community — public health officials, planners, designers, real estate teams, school officials, economic developers, elected officials, the philanthropic community, etc. — including people across a spectrum of abilities who can bring to the table the experiences they live every day.

I learned so much from Mark, and I’m putting it into practice. I’ve had fun actively engaging the disability community in New Orleans prior to this trip, and I’ve even enlisted the support of local guides for our mobile workshop. Mark Fenton taught me how to walk! Now I am ready to show New Orleans how we roll!

Following the advice of Mark as a great leader, and marching to the beat of those who have gone before us and literally paved the bicycle and wheelchair paths we will take, I am ready to touch on the fundamental guiding principles and language of inclusion, so together we can co-create the script for inclusion for every walk leader, writing the narrative as we go. And for walking advocates, I hope to continue the conversation and opening of their eyes of the disability rights movement (which will be continued on this great discussion being hosted by America Walks).

Together, we will change the tenor of the conversation. We will open the eyes of planners as we look through the eyes of all users and consider all users. Combining our efforts, we will empower the next generation of walk leaders to truly move us toward a world where everyone has access to the spaces and places to be physically active in healthy communities everywhere. As the song goes, I want to be in that number….