On this episode of the ACB Advocacy Update, Claire and Clark speak with Heidi Simon from America Walks. They discuss the overlapping missions of our two organizations, and the work that we are doing to make our neighborhoods and cities more pedestrian-friendly.
To learn more about America Walks visit: www.americawalks.org.
Clark Rachfal: You are listening to the ACB Advocacy Update.
Claire Stanley: Hey everybody, welcome back to another episode of ACB Advocacy Update. I believe this will be our first episode for 2020 so very exciting. Welcome back. We hope everybody had a great holiday season. I am Claire Stanley, the advocacy and outreach specialist here at the American Council of Blind. Sitting across the desk from me is...
Clark Rachfal: Clark Rachfal, director of advocacy and governmental affairs for ACB. Thank you to everyone. Hopefully we didn't lose too many listeners over the holiday breaks, but we are back here in 2020 like Claire said, happy new year. If you'd like to find old episodes of the podcast or more information about ACB, you can always visit acb.org and find episodes on ACB Radio as well as via your favorite podcast player.
Claire Stanley: And as always, if you have any advocacy questions, things are going on, you want potential help, you just want to know what your rights are, anything and everything. You can always reach out to us at email@example.com that's firstname.lastname@example.org. So without further ado, we'll go ahead and introduce our guests today. We're really excited to talk about a relationship that's been building with another nonprofit organization starting in just this past year and we hope for it to continue to grow and evolve and just become something really, really great. And so that nonprofit organization is America Walks. So to talk to us today, we have Heidi Simon, do you want to go ahead and introduce yourself, tell us what your, your title is, your role is, and then just a little bit about what your organization's all about, your mission statement and so on.
Heidi Simon: Sure. Thanks guys. And thanks for having me today. So I'm Heidi Simon. I'm the deputy director at America Walks, which means that I do any number of things. We're a small organization, so I wear a lot of hats, mostly focused on partnerships, communications and programs. So you'll see me around the, the organization and our webinars and whatnot. If you're familiar with our programming. We are a national nonprofit organization focused on advancing safe, equitable, accessible, and enjoyable places to walk and move. And we do that through a variety of ways by giving people and communities the resources to effectively advocate for change. So we work at the local and state and national level with a network of over 30,000 individuals across the US and 700 local and state and national organizations all focused on making sure that people in communities across the US can walk and move, whether it be for transportation, for fun, for health, whatever that goal might be. We want them to be able to do so safely and accessibly.
Claire Stanley: I think that's great. I know one of the first suggestions for us to connect with America Walks came with some of our members from our environmental access committee. And our environmental access committee is all about making our environment around us accessible. So our sidewalks, our streets, our crosswalks everything and anything that we interact with on a daily basis when we're going from point a to point B. And so it's really exciting to hear about what you guys are doing, how closely it aligns with some of the work that our different committees here at ACB are working on.
Heidi Simon: Yeah, we really think that when you're looking at communities and places where people live, work, play, get around for whatever the case may be it's not enough to look curb to curb as so often we do when we talk about transportation planning or community design, you really have to look door to door and really take the full picture. And to do that, it's that human perspective and no better way to get the human perspective of a place where you are than on foot.
Clark Rachfal: And Heidi does that perspective, that door to door perspective, I guess what's what are some similarities and what are some differences because you are a national organization does that philosophy or things that you take into account have to change whether you're dealing with environmental access and pedestrian safety in rural areas, suburban areas or even urban centers?
Heidi Simon: Oh, definitely. Context is key. And there's no one size fits all solution here. I mean even within you know, two urban settings or to rural settings, you're going to have different considerations that need to be taken into account. You know, for urban settings, a lot of it is looking at ways that we are partnering with transit, affordable housing, how we look at the use of space because space is so often limited in urban spaces. And rural settings or small town settings that looks different. It might not be so much that you're able to walk to a grocery store for example, but are there places that you can get to that then you can kind of get out of a car or a vehicle and walk around there and get a similar experience, I'll say. You know, rural communities and small towns often have more opportunities for trail development, for opportunities to walk outside and be in my nature, which is a huge benefit and something that we're seeing grow in urban settings, but it doesn't come as naturally, maybe. So there's, there's any number of considerations that come into play. And like I said, no one size fits all solution. And so it's really just looking at what our priorities are and what we know works or can work and getting people to think little bit differently about how they're using space and transportation.
Claire Stanley: That's great. So I know for us here at the American Council of the Blind, we were really excited and liked the idea of getting connected with you guys at America Walks because we really believe that our missions overlapped and that we had similar goals that for those of us who are blind or visually impaired, we want to make sure that our environment is accessible in all different ways, shapes and forms. And we really felt like that could very well be connected to what's going on at America Walks that we have similar goals and ideas and priorities. Can you talk a little bit about that? I know we've touched on it a bit, but what some of the priorities are for you guys and how our two organizations can kind of come together because as we always know, you know, two voices are louder than one and so on and so forth.
Heidi Simon: Yeah. I think it's been great to work together over the past year and learn about each other's work and to find those, those obvious overlaps. In our work, in our priorities, we believe that everybody walks at some point throughout the day in some form. You know, you're going to take steps outside probably. And so what, what does that look like and how can we make communities that support that behavior, whether those steps are just walking to your car from your party or office, whether it's walking to a Metro stop, whether it's walking to school with your kids or whatever the case may be. What, what can we do to make that, that happen? And I think for us, our priorities really stemmed back to that mission statement that I mentioned earlier. Where we're advancing safe. So looking at slower speeds, better maintained crosswalks and frequent crosswalks.
Heidi Simon: And opportunities to cross safely, well maintained sidewalk network and maintaining the quality of sidewalks. We're looking at equitable, which means that we are looking at walkable communities for all members and for all communities. Making sure that community members feel engaged and empowered to use their voice, to be part of these conversations about what they want their community to look like or what they need their community to be doing for them. Accessible, which is, you know, what we talk a lot about a lot with our two organizations, right? I feel like that kind of is our joint wheelhouse, so to speak. And that looks at things like making sure that pedestrian rights of way are clear for everybody, or that signage and other way finding is, is able to be read and used by, by all members. And then our last buzzword in our mission statement is enjoyable. And we, we keep that in because at the end of the day, walking should be fun. You know, you're, you're doing a physical activity. Yes. And you might be doing it for transportation or to improve your health. But it should, it should also be fun. You should be finding enjoyment in doing the activity.
Claire Stanley: That's awesome. I like that. Yeah. I think even before you said like the wheelhouse of what we really work on with between our two organizations, the other things really rang out to us here at ACB, you know, things like sidewalks, you know, we are not sidewalks, excuse me, crosswalks. We want as many crosswalks available as possible cause those help, those of us who are blind and visually impaired have better access to across the street. You know, we want sidewalks that are not cluttered with different items that are free from obstacles. I think, you know, so many of our things really align and that's exciting.
Heidi Simon: Yeah. And having conversations too. I've really enjoyed our discussions and getting an opportunity to learn from, from both of you and everyone else at ACB about what, what does safety mean for people with visual impairments? What does accessibility look like to your members and your network so that we can continue to expand our efforts to make sure that when we, when we talk about walking walkable communities, we are reflecting the needs of all community members.
Clark Rachfal: Heidi, what have you noticed in over the past few years or even a more longterm about how walkable communities have changed or evolved, are communities becoming more walkable? Is technology making it easier or harder for people to navigate on foot in the community?
Heidi Simon: I think people are starting to, or not starting, but continuing to recognize the value that comes in a walkable community. You know, we see it having economic benefits for local main streets and businesses. We see it obviously having health benefits as people are moving and increasing physical activity. We see it as being a transportation option and getting people out of their cars and looking at different ways to get around, which helps any number of things such as the environment or you know, how they can use space in place. And so I do think it's it's growing in popularity or being a little bit more recognized as a legitimate form of transportation, which is great. Our work is still cut out for us. You know, we know that over 6,000 people died walking last year. And that number is growing.
Heidi Simon: So obviously we're not there yet in creating communities that support walking completely. But I do think that the conversation is shifting. And I think as we look at new forms of transportation and mobility that are coming on the scene, whether it be scooters or eBikes or you know, I don't even know what's going to be the next flashy shiny toy that's made up. I don't have a crystal ball, but I do think it even with those new transportation options, the conversation you're seeing around how do we use space and what are, what are the goals of a community and in creating options for people and getting away from that mindset that, you know, the car is King and I think we're seeing a shift there as well.
Claire Stanley: So we hold our annual convention every year as most of our listeners know. And we were really fortunate this past summer when we were in Rochester, New York to have Heidi actually come and speak at our convention. Do you want to talk a little bit about your experience, what you talked about, hopefully you enjoyed yourself. And yeah, just kind of what it was like to come to our annual convention.
Heidi Simon: Yeah, it was great. It was a great opportunity to learn more about the work that all of you are doing and some of the issues that are on your priority list. So that was, that was great and got me thinking about ways that we can continue to partner together. I was there you know, to learn obviously and to introduce American Walks and hopefully get people thinking about ways that we can be a resource for the work that you're doing, but also ways that we can be a partner and maybe advance both of our missions at the same time, because Claire, as you said, two voices are stronger than one. And there's, there's so much work that we can do together. And so I spoke a little bit about that, about some of the programs that we have at, at America Walks that could support efforts by, by ACB or ACB members such as our walking college program, which works to develop advocacy skills and communication skills around walking, walkable communities. Our grant program, which awards small catalytic grants to communities who want to kind of kickstart a project and, and inviting everyone to our own national conference. Which we actually are doing two this year, so we just wrapped one in September in Columbus, Ohio and we will be in St. Louis, Missouri in March. And I hope to see many, many ACB members there.
Claire Stanley: That's exciting. Our annual convention back in 2018 was in St. Louis, Missouri. So we have some great, great members out there.
Clark Rachfal: And Heidi, if you could just wave a magic wand, what would be some of the, I guess, priorities or policy changes or innovations that you would will into existence?
Heidi Simon: I think anything that really gets at reducing the number of pedestrian fatalities, it's, it's a growing and disturbing trend that we are seeing in America Walks that you know, thousands of people are dying on our streets and that means that we're failing our communities. So whether it is lowering speeds so that they are more appropriate to the settings that they're in whether it be improving street design you know, like crosswalks for example, or signals, wayfinding, whatever that looks like. I really think my wishlist would be the, the techniques that we know that aren't being employed to start really getting serious about reducing that number because it's just you know, people are dying and, and we need to, to address that.
Clark Rachfal: Yeah. And at our annual convention last year, and our members passed, I believe it was 16 resolutions, passed by the national membership and attendance and four of those 25% were on transportation related priorities. Everything from accessible pedestrian signals to the use of microbility and shared mobility devices like scooters and e-bikes. All the way up to the future innovations that are coming down the pipeline or down the road as it were, is there work that America Walks, is doing in those spaces, especially the autonomous vehicles and e-bikes and scooters, how they can be properly used and integrated into the transportation ecosystem.
Heidi Simon: Yeah. Obviously it's something that we're keeping a close eye on and adding our voice too. In terms of, of where those things fit in our transportation landscape. You know, one of our big concerns and I know ACB shares this concern is, is clutter on sidewalks. And in terms of, of scooters and e-bikes or whatever the case may be being left unattended and blocking people's passage. And really I think there are solutions for that out there. I think people are kind of rethinking the use of curb space or parking spots or whatever the case may be. And I'm, I'm glad to see that some of the, some of the companies are, are thinking creatively about how they can help to, to manage those situations in those environments. So that's, that's exciting. I don't, you know, they're not going to go anywhere and they're, they're certainly not the enemy. But I think that we have to look at again are we prioritizing people in the way that we're using space and the way that we are offering transportation options and alternatives and at American Walks being at the table and being part of those discussions is critical because we do represent people at the end of the day in a way that you know, other organizations don't.
Claire Stanley: Yeah. Well we've really enjoyed working with you so far with the America Walks and we're excited to work with you going forward and hopefully, you know, for many, many, many years to come. I just wanted to do a shout out and say thank you to Kate Kraft, your executive director. I heard through the grapevine that she'll be retiring, so thank you Kate for working with us and it's been a great relationship thus far.
Heidi Simon: Yes. Kate is, is moving on this later this year. And we will be sad to see her though. But I think excited to start a new chapter for America Walks with whoever my might take her, her very big shoes to fill.
Claire Stanley: Yeah, for sure. Well is there anything else you wanted to tell us about today that we be aware of with what America Walks is up to or anything and everything that we should just be aware of?
Heidi Simon: No, just thank you again for having me. Please take a minute to learn a little bit more about our organization. If you're interested, feel free to reach out to me if you want to discuss ways that we can work together, or have questions. And really do consider America Walks a partner and a resource for the work that all of you are doing.
Claire Stanley: I know we were very fortunate last year that Heidi came to our legislative seminar, or Heidi didn't come, I should say a member of their board from America Walks came. And we're, we're hoping to maybe invite Heidi again this year. So keep an eye out at the legislative seminar and Leadership Conference. We're going to continue to hopefully continue that relationship every opportunity we get.
Clark Rachfal: Yeah, transportation is a priority for ACB and America Walks and that will not be changing anytime soon. So Heidi, for folks who want to learn more about America Walks, what's the best way for them to do that?
Heidi Simon: You can visit our website americawalks.org or feel free to shoot me an email at email@example.com and I'm always happy to have a chat.
Claire Stanley: Great. Well, thank you so much. This was a great conversation and we're happy to continue to foster this relationship. As always, again, we said at the beginning, but we never can say it too often. If you have any advocacy issues you'd like assistance with, have questions, concerns, comments, feel free to reach out to Clark and myself firstname.lastname@example.org. That's email@example.com, I'll make Clark check the email. But we are just excited to have everybody listening and we're excited for 2020! I know there's going to be many a blind joke this year, but we're excited to see what 2020 has for us, so thanks everybody for listening.
Clark Rachfal: See what she did there. See...
Claire Stanley: You like that? I got that in there!
Clark Rachfal: Yeah! Folks. It's going to be a whole year of puns and jokes like that so get used to it.
Claire Stanley: You're welcome. And Clark, what do we always say?
Clark Rachfal: Keep advocating!