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Helping Cyclists With Disabilities Reach Their Goals

The League’s Smart Cycling curriculum is a great tool for creating safe, confident cyclists. One of the greatest aspects of the program is the way it can be adapted to meet an educator’s needs. A great example is Programs to Educate All Cyclists (PEAC), a Michigan group helping individuals of all ages with cognitive, physical, and emotional disabilities reach their cycling goals.

John Waterman and his staff are serious about what they do. “We believe everyone can ride,” Waterman says. “That’s our motto and we take this stuff personally.” Waterman is a League Cycling Instructor, and all of the staff has graduated from Traffic Skills 101. More importantly, everyone has a degree in special education and a passion for working with cyclists with disabilities. PEAC has developed a number of programs to address the variety of goals set by their students.

Credit: PEAC

Credit: PEAC

Rather than approaching cycling education only as a set of skills, PEAC staff focus on a student’s level of independence. “Student goals can last years,” says Waterman. “What cyclists face the first time they pick up a bike or ride in traffic can be overwhelming for our students.” Students are required to demonstrate the necessary skills as they progress towards their goals and become more independent cyclists. Practice venues range from parking lots to trails to urban streets. Transitions between practice venues are done on a tandem bike to slowly introduce the new skill set to students.

The highest praise anyone can offer of PEAC is to share stories from their students and families.

  • Shawn has been part of PEAC for about twenty years, coming to the group just as he started learning to ride a bike. What he found was the excitement and joy of riding with his family. This was difficult for Shawn due to a cognitive and visual impairment and the multitude of decision points required while cycling. PEAC worked with him to become independent by making sure he understands the decisions he has to make and knows the area he is riding. Shawn is living independently with two jobs and cycling is how he gets to work and connects to the community.
  • Rachel is part of a very active family that loves to ride. Her mom knew including Rachel would be a challenge, and reached out to PEAC. Together they helped outfit “Rachel’s Chariot,” a trailer that holds all of her necessary medical equipment. While she faces a lot of physical challenges, cycling has given her independence and family time her parents never thought would be available.
  • Chris learned to ride a two wheel bike at PEAC, but suffered a tragic accident and had to relearn how to walk and bike. Today his bike is his sole method of transportation to work (Chris works for a hardware store and runs his own business). He now volunteers with PEAC and teaches children to ride. Chris’ current goal is to ride a tandem with his girlfriend.

Credit: PEAC

One of the biggest lessons John has learned is that “our students are our best advocates.” PEAC students met with Michigan state senators to discuss complete streets and the value of accessibility and bicycling in their lives. “What our students face is really what complete streets is meant to address,” notes Waterman. The complete streets legislation passed the Senate unanimously and has since become law.

PEAC students and staff have also realized the benefit of a cycling community like Michigan. “Michigan is the most inclusive [cycling] community you’ll meet, from the League of Michigan Bicyclists [LMB] to the local clubs,” praises Waterman. “Everyone is part of PEAC. Local rides are reaching out to us, wanting our input on how to make their ride available to everyone. And the LMB has gone out of its way to ensure students with disabilities are included in its SRTS literature.”

To learn more about PEAC, email John Waterman at [email protected]. Also consider riding in PEAC’s Annual Celebration of Cycling Ride on September 8, 2012 or get up/get down at the Dance Marathon at the University of Michigan. Both events help fund PEAC programs and activities throughout the year.

Credit: PEAC

Elsewhere in cycling advocacy…

  • A project installing rumble strips on several key bicycle routes in Vashon Island, Washington is on hold after concerns were raised by cyclists.  Advocates have noted that WSDOT isn’t following it’s own policy to leave at least four feet of clear space for cyclists.  Bike Vashon and the Cascade Bicycle Club are working with WSDOT and King County DOT to stop the rumble strip project if cyclist concerns cannot be addressed.

Do you have news from your advocacy organization? Let me know: [email protected]


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