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A More Accessible City: ‘We’re Going in the Right Direction’ 

Stephanie Cook, the City's ADA Coordinator, enjoys a quiet moment this spring at Suttree Landing Park.

Multiple City departments are working to make downtown and neighborhoods – as well as City parks and recreation programs – more accessible to people with disabilities.

Stephanie Cook, the City’s ADA Coordinator, sees progress being made. She’s pleased the City is prioritizing walkable neighborhoods, and more paths are being opened for people using wheelchairs.

“The past few years have been good ones in terms of accessibility,” she said. “We’re definitely going in the right direction.”

The accessible picnic tables, overlooks and playground at Suttree Landing Park are “crown jewels,” Cook said.

The City is committed to “complete streets.” There’s special training for City and Knoxville Area Transit employees, designed to help them best meet the needs of senior and disabled citizens. And the City’s Community Development Department embraces the concept of “visitable housing.”

“Having the vision and the commitment to accessibility is important,” Cook said. “It's the big first step. Once everyone is there, philosophically, then it’s a matter of: What can we do to make it happen faster and better?”

Here’s a report on how some City departments are moving the needle toward Knoxville becoming even more inclusive and disability-friendly.

KAT: ‘We want to empower our riders’

About 10 times a year, Cindy Cox and her co-workers at Knoxville Area Transit wind up at KAT’s bus lot on Magnolia Avenue, or at a neighborhood bus stop, working one-on-one with a disabled person.

They understand that if a person is losing his or her eyesight – or relying more and more on a wheelchair – then the ability to navigate sidewalks and bus shelters represents independence.

Often, it’s a matter of building that person’s confidence.

That’s why Cox, a veteran KAT customer service manager, and her staff will devote hours helping someone with a disability who needs to memorize their route to the bus stop – a blind person counting steps, for example.

Or helping someone who needs to practice getting on and off a bus a few times, so they’ll feel comfortable doing it at an actual bus stop.

Cox remembers her grandfather being frustrated by transportation difficulties, and becoming more isolated, after he’d lost his leg.

“We want to empower our riders,” said Cox, a former bus operator who’s been with KAT for 18 years. “I feel compelled to do this. I’m able to relate to them and their issues.”

“The last thing we want is for someone who needs us to feel embarrassed, or unease, because of their disability.”

How many times will a KAT customer service specialist work individually with a disabled passenger trying to become comfortable with transit as an option?

“As many times as it takes,” Cox said.

O’Dell Draper, KAT’s Director of Operations and Safety – also a former driver – is in sync with Cox.

Every new KAT employee goes through six weeks of training, and eight hours is solely dedicated to Americans with Disabilities Act compliance. Existing employees undergo 200 hours of focus training a year, divided between class time, road training and awareness of ADA best practices.

Cindy Cox and O'Dell Draper
Cindy Cox and O'Dell Draper

Last year, the director of the East Tennessee Technology Access Center approached Draper on behalf of a senior citizen who uses ETTAC services. The issue was the woman’s motorized wheelchair; it didn’t have hooks on the bottom, which are typically used by KAT operators to belt in and safely secure passengers using wheelchairs.

ETTAC loaned KAT a hoveround, which Draper immediately incorporated into his training. By using a Q Straint belt, any wheelchair, with or without hooks to tie on to, can be secured. The belts are stored aboard every KAT bus and trolley, Draper said.

Draper wants every operator to be able to quickly and correctly secure a wheelchair, so he was happy to have the hoveround for training. An easy, immediate safety belting lessens the potential for the passenger to feel embarrassed or self-conscious.

“We take ADA training seriously,” Draper said. “We want all our passengers to feel comfortable on KAT vehicles, and we have zero tolerance for anyone being rude or disrespectful.”
 

By the numbers

If you flip through the 80-plus page 2017 Department Year in Review report – www.knoxvilletn.gov/yearinreview – you’ll find tons of statistics. Milestones met, projects finished, trends continued.

In 2017, City of Knoxville employees completed hundreds of projects and delivered a wide range of services – everything from patching potholes and building greenways, to coordinating more than 1,500 festivals, concerts and other special events, to police officers and firefighters responding to emergencies.

Among the trends, laced through the report, is the City’s ongoing efforts to increase walkability and accessibility. Last year, City and contractor crews, mostly through the Engineering Department:

• Replaced 20,830 linear feet of sidewalk;

• Installed 3,428 linear feet of new sidewalk;

• Constructed 330 curb cuts;

• Replaced 27,000 square feet of brick sidewalks on Gay Street; and

• Installed or refreshed 179 crosswalks, in addition to intersections that were improved as part of more than 45 miles of street resurfacing.

New sidewalks were constructed throughout the city, including at Fort Dickerson Gateway Park and on Gleason Drive, Newcom Avenue, Ray Mears Boulevard and West Young High Pike, and on the Holbrook Drive bridge.


Making a difference

In 2016, ADA Coordinator Cook tried to resolve issues affecting about 130 City residents and visitors who contacted her – concerns about physical barriers, which a curb cut would remedy, for example, or questions about proximity of ADA parking.

That number more than doubled in 2017.

“The increase in calls and visits tells me there’s a real need,” Cook said. “Statistics show that, combined, about 50 percent of Americans are seniors or have some sort of disability. And about 80 percent of the U.S. net worth is controlled by seniors.

“The business community gets it – they’re trying to prepare for the senior tsunami, even though right now in the U.S., about 90 percent of all available housing is inaccessible.

“And cities that take the lead on accessibility, like Knoxville, are moving toward policies and practices that are inclusive of all our residents.”

Cooks cites some examples of City programs that are making a difference:

• Owner-Occupied Home Rehab

Increasing “visitable housing” – homes that someone using a wheelchair or lacking mobility can enter and navigate – has long been a goal of advocates and people with disabilities.

The Community Development Department’s Owner-Occupied Home Rehabilitation program provides resources to homeowners wanting to make repairs, or increase accessibility.

“This is a way for people to be able to stay in their homes as they get older,” Cook said.

More details: http://bit.ly/2FsXmzG


• Suttree Landing Park’s accessibility

Suttree Landing Park on the South Waterfront is “awesome,” Cook said. It features an accessible playground and accessible tables on accessible river overlooks.

There’s a mix of surfaces on the riverwalk, so it’s wheelchair-accessible.

ADA Coordinator Stephanie Cook touts the accessible tables and outlooks at Suttree Landing Park.

Construction of a boathouse gets underway later this year, and it will include a wheelchair-accessible dock and gangway. The kayak/canoe launch will allow individuals with disabilities to sit, slide or to be lifted in and out of their kayaks and canoes. It will be adjacent to the put-in area.

“It makes for a perfectly planned experience for all families,” Cook said.




• Wide Cumberland Avenue sidewalks

On the new Cumberland Avenue, the bus shelters are ADA-accessible – open from the back as well as the front. The roomy sidewalks – with street furniture and about 100 trees providing pleasant, shady public spaces – is a welcome upgrade.

“The sidewalks were designed to be wide and pedestrian-friendly, which also makes the public space inviting and easy to use for people with disabilities,” Cook said.

“This is what a commitment to Complete Streets means. Cumberland Avenue is a great example of urban streetscape designers intentionally and proactively planning for complete inclusion.”

New bus shelters on Cumberland Avenue allow people using wheelchairs to enter from the back of the shelter as well as from the front.

The wide, smooth sidewalks on Cumberland make it easier for people with disabilities to navigate in a crowd of pedestrians.


• “Dynamic Recreation”

Late last year, the City Parks and Recreation Department was honored with nine state-level Tennessee Recreation and Park Association awards.

You’d expect some traditional awards, recognizing physical structures or park amenities. Not surprisingly, Suttree Landing Park’s innovative design and accessible features were saluted.

But other recognitions went to innovation in creative programming.

Recreation Center Leader Daniel Alexander and Inskip Recreation Center were both honored. Alexander focuses on offering inclusive recreation programming, which he has dubbed “Dynamic Recreation.” The programming uses innovative approaches that allow people of all abilities to be active and participate in sports together.

In recent years, Inskip Recreation Center has provided inclusive programming, such as Power Soccer, which allows people to play the sport in wheelchairs, and Adult-Sized Foosball, which encourages the use of therapeutic motor skills.

​Adult-Sized Foosball at Inskip Recreation Center
Adult-Sized Foosball at Inskip Recreation Center

• Communication cards

The Mayor’s Council on Disability Issues has created and is circulating 4-by-11-inch laminated cards that are designed to better enable a deaf motorist to summon help – or to more effectively communicate with a police officer during a traffic stop.

They fit in a glove compartment or a vehicle console.

CODI has created and issued hundreds of communications cards for people with limited hearing.

On one side, there are tools that can help the police officer. For example, there’s a quick primer on how lip-reading can work best. And there are icons that the motorist can point to, identifying the best way to communicate – using an interpreter, or by writing, or by using an assistive listening device.

On the other side, there are more icons to which the deaf person or the officer can point. Need to see an ID? Point to the icon. Need to tell the motorist what infraction led to a traffic stop? There are seat belt, speed limit, broken headlight and other pictures.

Get involved

Milestones are being met. Improvements are being made. Mindsets are changing, with teams of engineers, planners and program managers committed to designing infrastructure, or delivering programs, in ways that allow everyone to benefit from their use.

But there many needs and many hurdles remain.

"The most important thing is awareness," Cook said. "No one goes out and intentionally designs something in a way that prevents someone with a disability from using it.

"So part of my job is to help promote more awareness on the front end. As parks and sidewalks and bus stops are being planned, are we fully focusing on accessibility? Are there simple things we can do to be more inclusive?"

To report accessibility issues, or to get involved in finding solutions, call Cook at 865-215-2034 (TTY 865-215-4581) or email her at scook@knoxvilletn.gov.

Visit the Disability Services Office webpage at http://bit.ly/2FsDEEi for additional resources, to download a request form for a disability accommodation, or to take a Disability Friendly City survey.

Posted by evreeland On 27 March, 2018 at 8:03 PM