The Chicago region has fallen behind on planning for people with disabilities. Fortunately, building blocks are already available to help local governments kick-start the process.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a 30-year-old landmark civil rights law that protects equal access to employment, education, transportation, and public spaces for people with disabilities. The act’s implementing regulations impact both the public and private sectors down to the local level. Earlier this month, MPC released a new report in partnership with the Great Lakes ADA Center that focuses on one specific part of the law: ADA transition planning. An ADA transition plan is a planning document that identifies all barriers to access in publicly-owned streets and buildings, and develops a strategy for the removal of those barriers. You can learn more about ADA transition plans and why they’re important here.
The purpose of an ADA transition plan is to transition to a state of universal accessibility in the public realm.
The new report, called Where the Sidewalk Ends, assesses the state of transition planning in the Chicago region, and what we found was disappointing. About 200 municipalities in the seven-county Chicago region are required by federal law to have a publicly available transition plan. When we did our inventory in 2020, only 22 were able to provide us with one. That’s just 11%. You can read more about the results of our analysis here. Putting aside the legal risks inherent to noncompliance, this is a real missed opportunity for the region to build stronger, healthier, more inclusive and age-friendly communities. Accessibility doesn’t just benefit people with disabilities, but also parents with strollers, tote-laden shopers, aging parents, and our young children. Fortunately, it’s never too late to get started.
Download Where the Sidewalk Ends here.
Start by establishing best practices
ADA transition plans have five required elements, which we detailed in an earlier blog post. Beyond those requirements, transition plans vary widely in detail and quality. We found that the best plans follow best practices that make them more representative of their communities’ needs and more likely to be implemented. These best practices include:
Meaningful public engagement. Local governments are required to provide an opportunity for interested parties to view transition plans and submit comments. This is a very low bar for public engagement. We believe that authentically involving people with disabilities, and tapping their vast knowledge on accessibility barriers, greatly strengthens the quality of transition plans and builds support for implementation.
Transparent inventory methods and results. One of the first steps in the transition planning process is to conduct a self-assessment to inventory accessibility barriers in the public right-of-way. A thorough inventory conducted in a transparent and documented manner creates trust in the process and ensures that all barriers are documented.
Detailed and actionable implementation plans. Identifying barriers to access is a useful exercise by itself, but the real purpose of an ADA transition plan is to transition to a state of universal accessibility in the public realm. High-quality transition plans, therefore, provide a detailed schedule for barrier removal and explicitly define the methods that will be used.
Planning for the future. Although not required by the ADA, high-quality plans will establish a system to monitor progress and make periodic updates. ADA transition plans should also describe how they align with other local or regional planning processes. Prioritizing the removal of barriers to access should be embedded in every transportation planning effort in the region.
Don’t reinvent the wheel
ADA transition plans have been required for three decades. That’s a long time to go without having one, but it also means that there are many examples to draw from to help communities start the process. Section 4 of Where the Sidewalk Ends includes a list of resources that explain legal requirements, provide transition plan templates, and show examples of completed plans. A few of these resources are listed below:
The Great Lakes ADA Center, MPC’s partner and coauthor for Where the Sidewalk Ends, is also available for technical assistance and support on questions or work related to the Americans with Disabilities Act for communities in the Great Lakes Region.
No time like the present
There’s no denying it: ADA transition plans take time and money, and both are always in short supply. But we’re at an important inflection point. As the impacts from COVID-19 continue to reverberate even as the pandemic lifts, we must reimagine what the future will look like. We can build back our communities to be healthier and more resilient by prioritizing access for people of all abilities. This will only make our region stronger. ADA transition plans are a useful tool that can help us realize this future.