When people think of sustainability and cities, they are most likely to think about environmental issues and things like urban gardens, water conservation, and LEED certified buildings. “Sustainability” touches every part of a city from buildings to streets, public transportation and education, medical access, food access, and beyond. Sustainability in Pittsburgh can only be achieved through inclusion of the disability community by increasing accessibility. As the city population grows and with urban redevelopment underway across the city, the disability community is being left out of the conversation. Here are four areas where accessibility by disabled folks must be included for Pittsburgh to achieve any sustainability goals.
City Living Must Be Inclusive
As more people choose to live in cities, it is estimated that 6.25 billion people will live in cities by 2050. About 16 percent of the Pittsburgh population is considered disabled. This number is consistent with the global 15 percent of the population. Pittsburgh is notorious for old buildings that lack elevators, ramps, or have too many steep stairs. This affects housing inclusion and reduces options for disabled people. New housing development in Pittsburgh must meet accessibility standards to be sustainable.
In a city full of higher education institutions, campuses must be inclusive and accessible. This includes the physical aspects of the campus itself, but also the courses and institutional supports for students with disabilities. Because universities are a huge part of Pittsburgh’s appeal, they serve more than students paying tuition. Universities regularly host events for the entire community of varying types. Accessibility in higher education is necessary for creating sustainable universities, but they also contribute to a sustainable workforce.
While Pittsburgh is a major medical hub for the best technology, doctors, and facilities, those with disabilities routinely lack adequate access. Part of a sustainable city is ensuring that all citizens have equitable access to healthcare. Pennsylvania expanded Medicaid under Obamacare, but since the people who need healthcare the most are often further from the city, they also lack healthcare. Sustainable development must consider these Pittsburghers when developing new hospitals and facilities and beyond.
Pittsburgh’s unique geography and historical city planning create major barriers for many citizens, especially those with disabilities, who may experience difficulties accessing and using public transit options. While increased accessibility to schedules, and new TrueTime bus tracking, have increased access to information, service cuts and reduced frequency in high-poverty neighborhoods may still have serious implications for individuals with disabilities. Pennsylvanians with disabilities can barriers to even seeing, navigating to, or physically using public transit systems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate approximately 2-in-5 Pennsylvanians with disabilities, have a disability that impairs daily functioning and limits access. Sustainable growth demands public transit systems are designed for access by all, which requires a critical review of the most vulnerable individuals, and the barriers they face to accessing a resource as vital as transportation.
You can have a role in sustainable Pittsburgh development by calling attention to accessibility issues you spot in the city. Port Authority can be contacted directly for commentary. UPMC and Highmark can also be contacted with concerns about accessibility to medical care, and you can attend events that invite community commentary on new developments. Be an ally and help making Pittsburgh a sustainable city for all.