Celebrating 25 Years of ADA

Disability Rights are Civil Rights

Today marks the 25th anniversay of the signing of the ADA legislation. This milestone is a good time to look around your community and see just how much your governmental agency has accomplished in removing barriers for those who have disabilities. 

  • Do you have a transition plan for identifying and removing barriers?
  • When was the last time you inventoried barriers and updated your transition plan?
  • What percentage of barriers in your built environment have been brought into compliance?
  • Is your governmental agency website compliant?
  • Are your public meetings and publications compliant?
  • Have you incorporated accessibility and needs of those who have disabilities into your emergency response plan?

For many of us, even after 25 years, we still have a long way to go to achieve compliance. This is particularly true for those of us addressing facilities within the right of way. As most are aware, much of the reason for this is due to the lack of clear guidance and direction specifically addressing the right of way. Fortunately the Access Board is working on finalizing Proposed Guidelines for Pedestrian Facilities in the Public Right-of-Way or PROWAG, and when it is finally approved, much of the confusion over requirements will be settled.

In addition to reviewing your community's progress in achieving compliance, you can also check out the following resources created to provide additional ADA-related education and, in some cases, assistance in removing barriers:

Timeline of the ADA

ADA Legacy Project: Preserving the history of the disability rights movement

Smithsonian Online Exhibit: EveryBody: An Artifact History of Disability in America

Google Impact Challenge: Google has launched a call for ideas for leveraging technology to improve accessibility



Learning New Skills at Civic Design Camp – Chicago 2015

At today's Civic Design Camp not only did I pick up a few choice bits of advice and skills to add to my civic toolbox, but I also was able to meet and network with some great people including Josh Kalov who I first met at CityCamp in Chicago back in 2010.


Introduction and First Session

The day started out with an introduction by Cyd Harrell, product director for Code for America, and Christopher Whitaker, brigade coordinator for the midwest region of Code for America. Whitaker is also a consultant for Smart Chicago and helps co-host Open Gov Hack Night in Chicago. After introductions, the discussion was turned over to Raphael Villas who was a Presidential Innovation Fellow and is now with 18F, a group within GSA providing digital services to the Federal government. Villas explained how he made the move from the private to public sector and showcased a few of the projects with which 18F is involved. 

Civic Design Camp 18F Presentation

These projects include:

Communicart – an online service to assist holders of Federal credit cards with purchase approvals and tracking.

MyUSA – a single sign-in service connecting citizens with the U.S. government. The project is still in Alpha, but when finished can assist in linking citizens with any application designed to accept this single sign-on.

USCIS – 18F is working on a streamlined version of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website. This new site will better direct users to the type of information they are looking for. If you visit the site, you will see it now immediately asks the user the status of their citizenship and offers possible actions or questions.

Let Girls Learn – this site provides information about the collaborative effort between the First Lady and the Peace Corps to promote learning among adolescent girls.

If you want to follow up and learn more about 18F or want to check out their code, you can visit their Github page at https://github.com/18f or their Dashboard at https://18f.gsa.gov/dashboard/.


Visual Design Basics

Next up was Molly McLeod who is with Code for America. She shared with us several good tips for making government documents, forms, and other media more user friendly. I kept thinking throughout her whole presentation how helpful it would be if the engineering industry was given more instruction in this area of study. Many engineers are tasked with preparing documents for use by government agencies, yet most have not had any formal instruction on writing or visual design. The lack of skills in these areas can cause a reader of those documents to either not even bother reading them because it is just too painful to fight through, or the lack of organization and disregard for the end user can leave the reader thinking the author lacks credibility. This lack of credibility can then translate to the government agency for which the document was prepared. So, to improve government documents, designers should always, before writing or preparing anything, answer the questions McLeod posed:

  • Who are your users?
  • What do they need to know?
  • What is the order they need to know it?
  • What are the action steps?

The next step is to make sure you are providing answers to the questions your users might have such as:

  • Am I eligible/is this relevant to me?
  • What info/materials do I need on hand?
  • How long will it take?
  • Key details: deadlines/when/where?

McLeod also offered content tips taken from the Field Guides to Ensuring Voter Intent. And even though the information is focused on communicating information to voters, most of the tips apply to any type of instruction given in a government document. (You can check out the guides yourself by following the link.) Below is a photo of a redesign McLeod did of her county's instructions to voters. If you visit her blog post about this topic, "Let's Respectfully Redesign Government," you can learn more about this redesign and see a side-by-side comparison of her design with the original set of instructions.

Civic Design Camp Visual Design Example

Prototyping Websites using Github Pages

Cathy Deng next showed us how she uses Github Pages to prototype websites. But the added bonus in this session were the other tools she touched on that can also be used to improve or assist in creating sites. While I've worked with website development since the early 1990s and was familiar with Github, these were all tools I have not yet used so it was great to learn about all of them and see a live demo of their features. To start, Deng showed us how to easily set up a website using Github Pages. Basically all you need is a Github account. After that you can follow the directions on the Github Pages site to set up your own website through your account. Here is a link to the very basic site I set up on my own account within only a few minutes following the example: My-Website.

Deng then showed us how we can test out changes to the site's code in Codepen. This tool, which is shown in the screenshot below, allows the user to paste code into the appropriate section – HTML, CSS,  or JS – and immediately preview how it will look in the browser.

Codepen Website Screenshot

The other tool she shared was Bootstrap Components. This site lists many of the items you might want to place on your website such as dropdowns, button groups, headers, progress bars, and many others. If you find the one you want, the code is listed so you can copy and paste it into the code for your site.

The last tool Deng brought into play was Font Awesome. This site, which is also hosted on GitHub, offers numerous vector icons that are scalable and can be added to your site. You can either download them and add them yourself, or you can copy and paste the code that links to the icon on Font Awesome. As the site indicates, "Font Awesome is fully open source and is GPL friendly." You can view Deng's final, simple site she coded during the presentation here http://cathydeng.github.io/my-website/ and access it on Github here https://github.com/cathydeng/my-website if you are interested in forking it over to your own account and experimenting with the code.

Civic User Testing Group

The final presentation I saw was given by Sonia Marziano who is with Smart Chicago and more specifically manages CUTGroup, a civic user testing group in the city of Chicago. Marziano explained how her group arranges testing of websites for developers. Their testing group consists of about 800 residents in the city representing all 50 wards and all 77 neighborhoods. Each participant in the group receives a $5 gift card for signing up and $20 each time they participate in a test.

If you visit the CUTGroup page on the Smart Chicago website, which is separate from the CUTGroup website, you'll find a listing of all the sites the group has tested so far along with very detailed reports analyzing the test results. Marziano was asked if she knew of developers using these results to assist in building better websites. While she wasn't specifically aware of anyone doing that, she did indicate there is enough detail in the write-ups that they could be used for this purpose and believed it would be a great use of the reports. For example, below is the final report from their testing of the Chicago Works for You Website (as an aside, if you haven't ever seen this site, it's worth clicking on over to check it out how Chicago reports their public works related service requests and to see the frequency at which those types of requests are received). I included this one because it focuses on public works related services. If you have a similar site, it might be helpful to read through the user group's reactions and thoughts about their experience with the site:

Marziano also shared some general, overall observations from their testing such as they found very few people click on popovers and that people don't like to have to sign up to access information. She said users will do everything possible to avoid having to share their personal information. They also realized from testing that for autotweets sent to a Twitter user based on specific terms used by that person in a Tweet, it is important to include these types of elements in the autotweet:

  • compassion
  • a question
  • an official element

So for example, if someone sends out a Tweet mentioning food poisoning in the city of Chicago, Foodborne Chicago will send an autotweet that is similar to the following:

"@twitteruser Sorry to hear you're ill. The Chicago health department can help.  https://t.co/kTBNsEJriH"


Final Presentations

I did miss the final presentations because I had to take off to get home in time for other commitments. However, based on posts by other attendees, it looks like the final presentations covered discussion about the Design Thinking for Libraries Website and gifs.


Off-line takeaways

As always in addition to the more formal presentations, I usually pick up some good stuff from others who I meet at an event. Because I was fortunate enough to sit at a table with others who are involved in the transportation industry, I learned a lot about what is going on with Chicago transportation and city business and found out about a few other websites that offer great information. Below are the sites Steve Vance, Abraham Emmanuel, and Josh Kalov shared with me:

Chicago Traffic Tracker – the benefit of this site is the regional map shown in the upper left corner. This small map gives a good overview of the congestion or traffic in an area of Chicago. It can also show how this compares to what is typical for that location and time and it can predict over a 12-hour time period how it will change.

Cook County Property Tax Portal – this site is useful if you have an address or PIN number for a parcel in Cook County. The information offered includes standard property tax information and a listing of the last few property transactions taken from the Recorder's office.

Chicago Cityscape – this site offers information about building permit and business licensing activity in the city of Chicago.


Running Toilets Get Their Own 5K Race!

Running Toilet

Catch a Running Toilet in a 5K Race Near You!

The EPA has been promoting Fix-a-Leak Week (March 16-22, 2015) for the past seven years. But like many issues in public works, sometimes it is difficult to drive awareness and attract people's attention to the message. Even with great social media resources and a topic that left ignored could mean a loss of money, it's still not easy for a message like this to stand out in today's constant stream of information. So some communities are taking a different and innovative approach by promoting the problem of running water with a 5K Run, and a few races will even include a running toilet.

If you manage a water system and have been looking for an idea for getting your message out about Fix-a-Leak, you can check out the races listed at the end of this post and consider organizing something similar in your own community. As the popularity of the race in Roswell, Ga., shows, your one event can end up reaching 800 people from your community. If the idea of a race is too much for your staff to manage on their own with the often limited time and resources available, you can follow the lead of Fort Worth, Texas, and partner with a local running group or club to help organize and host your run.

Many of the communities also enhance their event by incorporating social media. A few have created videos to promote their run (included with each listing below) or encouraged participants to use social media to post photos of themselves running in the race. Some of the races are themed and include a costume contest. At least one of the races offers a prize to a random person who posts on social media something they learned from the event. And others, including the one in Fort Worth, have also arranged for groups such as the EPA, local water conservation organizations, and local hardware or plumbing companies to set up information booths at the race. What better way to raise awareness, offer information, and have some fun!?


Races Promoting Fix-a-Leak Week:


Peoria: One for Water 4-miler, Saturday, March 21, 2015


Santa Rosa: St. Patrick's Day 5K, Sunday, March 15, 2015


Roswell: Water Drop Dash, Saturday, March 21, 2015



Fort Worth: Chasing Leaks 5K Run/Walk, Sunday, March 15, 2015

Plano: Chasing Leaks Fun Run, Saturday, March 14, 2015


Charlottesville: Fix-A-Leak Family 5K, Sunday, March 22, 2015



Newly Released Pedestrian Facility Selection Tool

PedestriansLast month, Austroads, the association of Australasian road transport and traffic agencies, released a Pedestrian Facility Selection Tool. According to their website, "the Pedestrian Facility Selection Tool is designed to help Australian and New Zealand practitioners select the most appropriate type of pedestrian crossing based on walkability, safety and economic outcomes." They have produced a User Guide and will be offering more information about the tool at a webinar scheduled for Tuesday, March 10, 2015. The webinar has already filled up, but the site indicates it will be recorded and offered on the website at a later date for viewing.

The tool can be used to assess the following types of pedestrian facilities:

  • raised platforms,
  • kerb extensions,
  • median refuges,
  • zebra crossings,
  • signals,
  • grade separation,
  • or combinations of these facilities.

According to the User Guide, the tool can also be used to assess the following:

  • "Puffin signals: the default signal type assessed by the tool, in which all pedestrian green phases are associated with pedestrians actually crossing
  • Wombat crossing (Australia): treat as Zebra with platform and adjust posted/approach speed if required"

You can try out the tool by clicking this link: Pedestrian Facility Selection Tool Link, then reading the necessary guidance and inputs on the page, reading the disclaimer, and clicking the link at the bottom of the page to indicate your acceptance of their terms and to access the tool. Below are screenshots showing the top and bottom sections of the tool.

Pedestrian Selection Tool Top Section


Pedestrian Selection Tool Bottom Section

For each option, "the tool then evaluates pedestrian and vehicle delay, safe sight distances, pedestrian level of service and, using default economic parameters developed for each Australian jurisdiction and New Zealand, calculates a benefit cost ratio." And if you are interested in learning more about the research undertaken to support and develop this tool, you can check out this report: Development of the Australasian Pedestrian Selection Tool.


Choosing a Running Shoe Infographic

If you implement a running program at your company as part of your wellness program, you might want to also offer guidance and resources about running to those employees who begin taking up the sport in earnest. Because shoes are one of the main items of gear needed for running, some advice on picking out the right shoe can be a great place to start. There are so many factors to consider in picking out a shoe that it can seem overwhelming to a new runner. So to help summarize the process, we did some research about choosing a running shoe and put together a simple infographic with the basic information someone might need to pick out the right shoe for them. Feel free to use this in your own programs, share it on your own social media channels, or grab the embed code below to post it on your own website. 

Click the infographic to get an enlarged image:

Choosing a Running Shoe

Share this Image On Your Site


Using Stationary Bikes to Design Bike Trails

Stationary Bike ScreenAs I ride my bike through some of the grades, curves, and alignments along the bike paths in my area, I often wonder if the person who designed them rides a bike. Because I can't imagine anyone who rides regularly making some of the design choices I encounter. This got me wondering if the designer would have still made those same choices if they had to first ride their design before building it. Of course, up until recently this really would not have been possible. But thanks to newer technologies, this type of design tool could probably be implemented today, and here's how I'm thinking it could be done.

Let's say I am given a project with the goal of designing a bike facility. This route could consist of a shared use path or an on-road facility or a combination of both. I would begin with a fairly traditional approach of analyzing potential alignments. Then after choosing one or more proposed routes, I would arrange to have these alignments surveyed, bring them into a CADD program like Autodesk Civil 3D, and start developing my design for each alternative. At this point, the final alternative would be chosen by analyzing the route for impacts, costs, public opinion, access to specific destinations, property acquisition issues, and other typical factors we usually consider when finalizing a design. The downside of this approach is that the actual performance of the facility can never be assessed. It is just assumed that if the engineer followed the same design criteria for each alternative, they would all perform in a similar manner. However, based on specific environmental conditions or design choices, this might not necessarily be true. Then it is not until the route is built and the money is spent that the users realize there are some issues with the design. So how can we use newer technologies to overcome this inability to assess our design before actually building it?

During the stage in which we analyze the alternatives, we could export a 3D model of our design. Then we could upload it to a stationary bicycle that has a screen display of our route. The computer on the bike would then pick up the design parameters such as slopes, lengths of segments, curves, etc., and then program the bike to react to those parameters. So if I have designed too steep of a slope for too long of a distance, it will become very obvious as I actually bike that route. And while this could be done simply to analyze only the design of the path, other models such as terrain, trees, intersections, and buildings along with environmental conditions such as wind, sunlight, and perhaps even traffic flow could also be added to allow for a more detailed analysis of how the environment impacts the path. In addition to having the engineer bike their own design, potential users of the path who span a whole range of abilities could also bike the design and offer input and comments.

So how close are we to being able to do this? I suppose that is a question for the companies manufacturing stationary bicycles. I know they can take a route and project it on the screen as you can see in the photo at the beginning of this post. And I know they can adjust the bike for grade/resistance. But can they read essentially what would be metadata about the images being displayed and use that to control the grade? I don't know with the current bikes, but I am sure if it's not possible now, it could definitely be programmed to function in this manner. As for exporting a file from Civil 3D that could integrate with a stationary bike in this manner, I would think based on how innovative Autodesk has always been that company would have no problem figuring this out.

And even though my main thought in all this was to help us design better bike facilities, it also made me wonder if something like this could lead to a whole new industry for civil engineers in which we design virtual bike experiences for stationary bikes too!