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A Closer Look at Community Accessibility: Arlington County’s Walk-and-Talk

NADTC thanks Pamela Van Hine of Arlington County, Virginia, for this interview. Pamela participated in NADTC’s 2018 Accessible Pedestrian Pathways mini-course and used ideas from the course for a September walkability audit conducted by the county’s Disability Advisory Commission (DAC) and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (PAC). 


On September 22, 2018, the Arlington County Disability Advisory Commission and the Pedestrian Advisory Committee held a joint DAC-PAC Disability Walk-and-Talk. The event included a pre-walk session, the walk, and a post-walk discussion.

Event Objectives

  • Providing PAC members with hands-on experience with wheelchairs on the street to better understand challenges that people who use wheelchairs face and the importance of building and maintaining a street environment accessible for all users.
  • Giving PAC members and staff opportunity to learn from DAC members about being a pedestrian who has disabilities.
  • Promoting DAC and giving DAC members an opportunity to discuss their accessibility issues.
  • Serving as a model for future disability walks after careful evaluation and modification of this pilot project.


Interview with Pamela Van Hine

NADTC: You had mentioned that you were inspired by the National Walking Summit held in St. Paul in September 2017. Explain a little about the walking sessions you participated in at the summit and how that motivated you to conduct this type of walkability audit in Arlington County.
Van Hine: During the 2017 National Walking Summit, I attended two learning-from-place mobile workshops, both on experiencing walking as a pedestrian with disabilities: Experiencing Mobility through Different Lenses: Navigating the Public Right of Way (Kjensmo Walker) and Wheels in Motion (Juliette Rizzo, Garret Brumfield, and Jonathan Stalls). In both sessions we formed three-person teams to use the wheelchairs and traveled around St. Paul for a couple miles.

In both we talked before walking, talked while walking, including some stops, and talked some more after we returned. In both we experienced and talked about how imperfections in the built environment made navigating with disabilities so much more challenging. All participants found the workshops life-changing. And I wanted to bring this experience back to Arlington.

NADTC: Tell us how the Arlington County event was initiated and how you recruited volunteers to assist?
Van Hine: I was Chair of the PAC, and the PAC reports directly to the County Manager, Mark Schwartz. I met with him last fall after the walking summit and asked him if I could plan a pilot disability walk with the Disability Advisory Commission (DAC), at no charge to the County. I then met with and spoke to the DAC at their December meeting, pitched the disability walk to them, and they enthusiastically supported it, agreed to help, and had lots of suggestions.

I met with the DAC several more times before the actual event to refine the details. The DAC Chair, William Staderman, met with me twice onsite to determine the best route for the walk; and Anthonia Sowho, DAC staff, helped me find wheelchairs that we could use. Katy Lang, the WalkArlington Program Manager, volunteered to help as needed. She critiqued the plans; helped plan the walk, including an onsite evaluation and providing maps; graciously served as an emergency contact; brought extra safety vests and WalkArlington goodies for participants; participated in the event; and gave great feedback and suggestions. Several other individuals involved in the walking movement also provided great advice through the planning process.

NADTC: Is this the first Walk-and-Talk event held jointly by the DAC and PAC in Arlington?
Van Hine: To my knowledge, the walk-and-talk was the first joint DAC-PAC event of any kind. However, a former PAC member who uses a motorized wheelchair showed some PAC members how to use a wheelchair a few years ago, and a long-time DAC member provided helpful comments on how to plan these types of events.

NADTC: Did you select the particular walking area/neighborhood for a reason?
Van Hine: The wheelchairs. The only wheelchairs I could find through Arlington County were available through a secondary county site, Sequoia. The Sequoia staff members were wonderful to work with, and the meeting facilities were great. We had our own meeting room to use for pre- and post-walk discussions, and the teams had to use a wheelchair in an elevator to exit the building. The site is accessible by many transportation modes: three local bus lines, complimentary parking is available, bike racks are in front of the building, and a major street was just a few blocks to the south. The area around the Sequoia buildings is relatively ADA compliant, but the streetscape beyond the facilities is challenging. The neighborhood is a mix of commercial buildings and single family homes; the local park was just a couple blocks away. We created a walk through different streetscape features, including the bus stop, park, and lots of pedestrian ramps and crosswalks of variable quality.

NADTC: What type of reaction did the DAC and PAC have to the event format you used? In particular, the aspect of using a wheelchair?
Van Hine: As I had hoped, the DAC and PAC attendees were pleased with the format, contents, and activities. They scored the event 4.6 on a scale of 0 (waste of time) to 5 (amazing). Everyone was impressed with how physically challenging using a manual wheelchair is and how the least slope on a sidewalk causes the caster wheels to turn down the slope. One person talked about how he had to think about how to travel across an intersection with the least difficulty, e.g. avoiding a slope, a puddle in the gutter, a crack in the sidewalk.

The DAC Chair learned that pedestrians who have full mobility are not aware of the challenges until they try using a wheelchair. One participant noted that “transitioning a manual chair from indoors to the street environment was a night and day experience.”

NADTC: Were there results or findings that surprised you? Positive aspects or items that really should be prioritized for improvement?
Van Hine: The DAC-PAC walk-and-talk was not a formal audit of the specific built environment. Rather, its primary purpose was to give PAC members the experience of using a wheelchair in the built environment and noting, in general, the barriers found. Difficulties with pedestrian ramps are expected, though one was too steep to use and water and mud made traveling through others difficult. Bill pointed out issues in the local bus stop design and park pathways that were not obvious to us. On the other hand, the sidewalks around the Sequoia had their rough spots filed down, which made traveling over them much smoother.

NADTC: Do you plan to hold additional walkability audits in the coming months or year?
Van Hine: All participants thought we should hold more walk-and-talks that cover other types of disabilities, especially sensory disabilities; including other groups, including the County Board, transportation and planning staff, various commissions; and covering other types of experiences, such as using the Metro, riding a bus, visiting developer planning sites, going into stores; using a motorized wheelchair. We hope to do more in Spring/Summer 2019 in consultation with the DAC.

NADTC: Are there lessons learned from the September event that will influence future events?
Van Hine: Most of the event details worked fine, including working with the DAC and pedestrians with disabilities; using a format of talk, walk-and-talk, and more talk; having teams of three participants for each wheelchair; planning a route ahead of time but focusing more on the talking than the walking; focusing on only one disability; having snacks for the post-walk discussion; allowing participants to complete their evaluation form after the event which gave them time to ponder and address the open-ended questions; having a backup date in case of bad weather; and using safety vests.

Some tweaks we would make:

All of the wheelchairs were bariatric, which is too big for relatively small participants; most of the brand-new wheelchairs did not have their foot rests installed, which made their use more difficult.


  • Share all contacts with all participants and staff. We almost had a disaster the night before because the building lost its electricity. Fortunately, it was fixed, and we held the event as planned, but our building staff contact did not have all the contacts for the DAC members.
  • If conducting a wheelchair exercise, weight-lifting gloves and biking gloves can protect against blisters.
  • If planning to take participant photos or videotape the the event, get permission from the participants.
  • Get confirmation from participants to decrease last second cancellations.
  • Have a budget that allows flexibility, such as funds to rent wheelchairs to use at a specific site.

NADTC: To wrap up, were there particular aspects of NADTC’s Accessible Pedestrian Pathways online course that you found useful for planning the event and learning about pedestrian issues in general?
Van Hine: The NADTC course was perfectly timed for my final planning for the walk-and-talk. Through the course I learned about the very impressive U.S. Access Board and multiple FHWA and NHTSA guides. By reviewing several of the cited documents in the course modules, I found checklists for event materials I would have forgotten, such as name tags, sign-in sheets, pens, and paper. The recommendations in the reports helped me finalize the major parts to the event – from planning to follow-up. One example that I would not have thought of is having a separate report from the disability group.

One surprise for me initially was that we did not use an audit form that was specifically designed for pedestrians with disabilities, and when I searched for one, I could not find any. Then I realized that there are so many types of disabilities and situations for pedestrians with disabilities that one form would not work for everyone in every situation.

For more information about the DAC-PAC Disability Walk-and-Talk, please send a message to

Photo credit: Arlington County, VA, DAC/PAC
Participants: First row (Left to Right) Andrea Walker, PAC; Bill Staderman, DAC Chair and Co-Leader; Katy Lang, WalkArlington
Second Row (L to R): Pamela Van Hine, PAC, Co-Leader; Ian Blackwell, PAC; Bryan MacPherson; Jim Feaster, PAC; David Patton, County Bike-Ped Planner

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