Our transportation system is meant to be a literal route to opportunity, helping residents get to jobs, shop for basic necessities, socialize with family and friends, and grow the communities they call home.
The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) has this goal in mind with our new initiative to improve accessibility for people with disabilities. Northeastern Illinois cannot become an inclusive and thriving region if people with disabilities are excluded from government services.
Accessibility improvements make it easier for everyone to go about their daily lives. But one-third of Americans over age 65 experience a disability that limits their mobility at a time when our region’s population is becoming older. Past CMAP research also has shown that residents with disabilities are significantly more likely to stay at home on an average day. CMAP’s latest travel survey showed that one in five residents with disabilities did not travel, compared to fewer than one in 10 for other residents.
The region has room to improve accessibility, and our communities can play a significant role. But according to the Metropolitan Planning Council, only 22 municipalities — 11 percent of the region — have an American with Disabilities Act (ADA) transition plan.
Mandated by the federal government, these plans identify policies, programs, and infrastructure improvements like sidewalks and crosswalks to make communities easier to navigate. All local governments with 50 or more employees (either full or part time) must create an ADA transition plan. Local governments also must evaluate the accessibility of its programs, services, facilities, policies, and procedures.
This is why CMAP started its ADA initiative: to equip communities with the resources needed to comply locally with the law and make infrastructure more accessible to everyone. CMAP, with the support of consultants, will assist local governments to improve mobility throughout the region. CMAP plans to support municipalities with appointing local ADA coordinators, educating communities about the law, completing self-evaluations, and finalizing ADA transition plans.
This undertaking takes hard work. Self-evaluations, for example, require staff to review each of a community’s public assets, check for ADA compliance, and assess what needs improvement. ADA transition plans must be individually tailored to fit a community’s specific needs.
Since last summer, CMAP has been busy laying the foundation for this collaborative initiative. We are adding staff. CMAP currently is working to hire planners who can spearhead this initiative and partner with local communities to boost ADA compliance. We’re seeking outside expertise, looking for consultants who can provide communities with training and support to complete self-evaluations and transition plans. We’re also seeking a contractor to gather data to help the region prioritize how — and where — ADA improvements should be targeted within a particular community.
Although this initiative is just beginning, CMAP already has a list of resources, including toolkits that can help guide municipalities interested in learning more about this work. The agency looks forward to supporting communities with completing and implementing ADA transition plans. Collectively, our communities can advance equity and uphold the hallmarks of the ADA law — equal access and improved quality of life for all.