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Students with disabilities need safe routes

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In the U.S., one in seven students has a disability. While many students with disabilities are able to walk or roll to school independently or with moderate assistance, many face physical or developmental limitations to making that trip. 

In Illinois, 13.7 percent of students receive individualized special education services in school. Students with disabilities are guaranteed transportation services to school, which for many comes in the form of specially-adapted school buses. 

By law, state-funded Safe Routes to Schools programs and projects are required to take into consideration the needs of all of a school’s students, including those with disabilities. In reality though, few planning processes include children with disabilities. 

Safe Routes to School is a state wide program that can help schools and districts develop new infrastructure and their own customized programs to make sure all of their students, including those with disabilities, have the chance to walk to school.

In southwest Michigan, schools like the Hillside Learning and Behavioral Center have taken on Safe Routes to School projects with the goal of making their communities more accessible for their students who have disabilities. Since many schools locate special education services for all students in the district on one location, schools have to be creative when trying to educate and encourage safe walking and biking to school. 

Rather than evaluating the trips their students made to and from school, Hillsdale focused on the routes students follow when they walk from their classrooms to downtown Allegan, where they often visit to practice life skills in their “community classroom” and build their independence. 

The Safe Routes to School team at Hillside conducted safety audits of their selected routes and students, teachers and parents were all invited to be a part of the planning process. Hillside students were given the chance to take ownership of the program and explain their needs to the Safe Routes to School team. 

Hillside’s principal now counts their community classroom route as a critical part of Hillside’s curriculum. 

Projects like the one developed at Hillside show how Safe Routes to School funding can be customized to meet the needs of a specific community and help bolster special education programs. 

Students with disabilities benefit from expanded walking and biking projects through enhanced mobility and more chances for activity, more opportunities to socialize with their community, and safe spaces where they can develop their independence and self-confidence. 

What can you do to help spread the word about the importance of walking and biking to school? 

Tell your state representative the Illinois Safe Routes to School program needs more funding!  

Tell your personal story by using #SafeRoutesIL to share photos and stories with your community and Active Trans.

Active Trans is one of nearly 200 community partners in the ADA 25 Chicago initiative. Throughout the year we're publishing a series of posts about the transportation challenges people with disabilities face every day.

This blog post was written by Lauren Dean, former Active Trans Safe Routes to School intern.