By Paul Tooher
Chicago ranks among the most livable cities for wheelchair users in the nation, according to a recent survey conducted by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.
The foundation states it looked at the 100 largest cities in the nation and ranked them based not just on accessibility but also livability for people using wheelchairs.
The criteria included a city’s climate, the city’s air quality, the number of physical rehab specialists and rehab centers in an area, accessible fitness and recreation facilities and paratransit systems.
The survey also looked at whether a city’s population contained large numbers of physically disabled people and whether those people have been able to get employment.
There are at least 54 million disabled Americans in the United States, according to the latest statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, representing 19 percent of the civilian non-institutionalized population. There are 3.3 million wheelchair users 15 or older in the United States.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities and transportation.
Chicago, which ranked sixth among the nation’s top 20 most livable cities, was singled out for working on developing a Healthy Community Mapping System that identifies the actual accessibility of buildings, fitness centers, sidewalks and stores in the city.
"People tell us about the lifts on buses not working, or buses passing them by because they are in a wheelchair, or elevators at train stations being out of service for long periods," said Yochai Eisenberg, an urban planner working on the project who is also a project coordinator at the Department of Disability and Human Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Seattle was ranked as the most livable city for wheelchair users in the nation, followed by Albuquerque, N.M.; Reno, Nev.; Denver and Portland, Ore.
After Chicago, the remaining cities in the top 20 list include Birmingham, Ala.; Winston-Salem, N.C.; Orlando, Fla.; Lubbock, Texas; Miami; Tampa, Fla.; Durham, N.C.; Fort Worth, Texas; Virginia Beach, Va.; Arlington, Texas; Baltimore; New Orleans; Arlington, Va.; and Atlanta.