By John Waterman, Liz Horvat, & Glen Ashlock
The number of people with disabilities participating in cycling and at cycling events has been growing rapidly in recent years. The cycling community has generally been welcoming and has tried to accommodate individuals with their specific needs, but little has been done to improve accessibility at a systems level. We often hear event directors say they would love their rides to be inclusive but they are worried about the cost, the added complications, or doing something wrong that would put riders at risk. The good news is that if you follow these ten simple steps you can improve accessibility for everyone (not just people with disabilities) and make all riders feel welcome at your event this year.
- Show that you desire to include everyone at your event
The single best thing you can do is include a variation of the phrase "Riders with disabilities are welcome. Please let us know if you have special needs." On all your brochures and webpages - and mean it. Not knowing how we will be received is often the biggest barrier to participation. If special services like interpreters or guides are available upon request, make it clear, don't make us ask.
- Have a go-to person for planning and to be available concerning accessibility issues
We already do this for course problems, the timing, or the SAG right? All staff and volunteers need to be aware of the accessibility steps in place but having one person who really understands the plan makes it easier to fix any problems. They can help with other ride activities, but they need to be available and everyone needs to know who they are and how to reach them at all times.
- Provide staff and volunteers basic disability sensitivity training
An orientation by someone experienced with disability issues as part of your event training is the ideal way to go. At a minimum, provide everyone with some resources or a handout that addresses the main issues. Some of these include: Always ask how/if you can help or what the rider needs, don't assume you know more than them about what they need. Be patient, and don't call extra attention to issues riders may have. Use people first language and don't focus on the disability or their assistive devices, such as "a cyclist with a visual impairment" vs. "that blind rider" or "a person who uses a wheelchair" vs. "the guy in the wheelchair".
- Create text-only versions of promotional materials
Braille, large print and spoken versions of everything would be ideal, but who knows how or has the budget? If you make a text only version of everything that goes into print or on the webpage easily available, most people with visual impairments will have a way to read it. Most of our pretty brochures probably started out as a word processor document, so save a version before doing layout. Then make the plain text version available by download or by email.
- Provide a detailed description of the event so potential riders know if it is a fit
What is the terrain? What is the total distance and distance between rest stops? What type of surface is it on? What is the traffic like? How long is the event open? Is there a minimum pace I am expected to maintain? This not only saves you from answering these questions over and over, it lets me decide if I can handle the ride.
- Don't make registration and check-in a bigger challenge than the ride
As mentioned in #4, make the registration materials available in advance so I can get help filling them out before I arrive. If I don't have them filled out already, have someone on hand who can help read to me and/or write in my answers. Have paper and pen or a tablet available to communicate with riders with a hearing impairment.
Make it clear where we need to go – use brightly colored signs, arrows, and large print. Don't have low hanging signs I have to duck under, or objects I might trip over. Mark tent ropes and stakes with bright flags to make them easier to see.
Make the registration tables easy to get to for wheelchair users and others. Keep them near the sidewalk, not in the middle of a field. Provide access to a table and space to turn around and exit when paperwork is done. If you are not sure what is needed, consider yourself pushing a shopping cart through the process. Designate accessible parking if the existing spots are not conveniently located near the check-in and make sure parking volunteers know where they are.
- Do not block the current infrastructure intended to provide access to everyone
Don't block curb cuts, sidewalks, handicap parking spaces, and other existing access features with registration or information tables, banners, or bike parking. Make sure riders have a place to gather where they are not blocking access.
- Make rest stops physically accessible
Once on the road, many riders can leave wheelchairs or other mobility aids behind (that is part of the appeal!). If possible, make the rest stops easy to maneuver for adaptive cycles. Make sure the rest rooms are wheelchair accessible. If you have portable toilets, have at least one be accessible and put it where it is easy to reach. Have a wheelchair at each stop so riders can get off their cycles and move around. You can probably borrow them from your local dealer or disability organization for a sponsor listing and they will help you spread the word about your efforts too. Again, large signs and volunteer training is important. It doesn't help to be accessible if no one knows about it.
- Have varying course lengths or speeds when possible
When you can, offer shorter routes, more rest stops, or a slower pace option for riders who need them. Will it work to send out an alternate wave of slower riders or extend the start or finish time requirement? This may allow more riders to participate without impeding faster riders. Being around faster and stronger riders can inspire and provide mentoring that may help riders with challenges improve.
- Hold all participants to the same standards
Your ride is what it is. All riders aren't going to be up for every event. If cyclists with disabilities have the full access they need and understand the conditions and expectations of the ride they can decide if it is a good match. Just like any other rider, they need to make any specific needs and expectations clear to you or you won't be able to help them.
One of the League of American Bicyclists stated priorities for 2013 and beyond is to work toward "true equity and inclusion" in the cycling community. This will only happen if individual rides make the effort needed to be fully inclusive. The steps above will get you started, but if you have any questions feel free to contact us for assistance. We don't have all the answers, but we have experience hosting inclusive rides and are always working to make them better. We would be glad to share what we have learned and learn from you. Learn more about our rides and programs at www.BikeProgram.org and www.IndependenceRide.org.