Improving mobility for seniors and those with disabilities

Improving mobility for seniors and those with disabilities

Rachel Fichtenbaum is a mobility information specialist at MassMobility. She researches best practices in community transportation, and disseminates them to practitioners statewide, providing technical assistance to help organizations improve mobility.

Finding transportation can be a challenge for seniors and people with disabilities looking to get to medical appointments, jobs, or other destinations, especially in suburban and rural areas. While some require a ride, walking is also an important mode of travel. Over the last five years, the state’s MassMobility program – a joint initiative of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services and MassDOT – has worked with transportation providers, human service agencies, and advocates in all regions of Massachusetts to identify needs and develop solutions to increase mobility for seniors, people with disabilities, and low-income commuters. Improved walkability is a recurring theme of our conversations and our work.

Walkability facilitates access to transit, getting from home to the bus route, and then from the bus stop to the destination. When the members of the Cape and Islands Regional Coordinating Council reviewed results of a survey of over 250 transit riders and potential riders, lack of sidewalks or other infrastructure along bus routes emerged as the number one barrier preventing people from using public transit. As a result, the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority has partnered with regional planners on a bus stop audit to determine where improvements may be needed.

Walkability near bus stops is a particularly important issue for travel trainers, people who teach seniors and people with disabilities the skills and knowledge they need to ride transit independently and safely. Earlier this year, travel trainers from around the state convened for a presentation on intersection design from Meg Robertson, Director of the Orientation and Mobility department at the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind. Using images of Massachusetts intersections to illustrate her points, Robertson presented an overview of types of intersections and challenges each type can present to pedestrians. She emphasized that street crossing involves a number of choices, and that while no travel trainer can prevent all danger, risk factors can be reduced.

Pedestrian safety is also important for people who use wheelchairs and mobility devices. AGE TRIAD, a group of public safety officials and senior centers representing the Berkshire County towns of Alford, Great Barrington, and Egremont, as well as the local Fairview Hospital, sponsored a “Be Seen, Be Safe” event at the Great Barrington Senior Center in July – all attendees received free, safety-yellow vests. Staff and volunteers gave out flags for scooters and helped attendees decorate their scooters with reflective tape. The event was spurred by a tragic crash in which a driver of an SUV hit a person using a scooter who was crossing the street from senior housing to a grocery store in Great Barrington in 2015. The driver said she never saw the pedestrian, so AGE TRIAD, at the urging of the Great Barrington Chief of Police William Walsh, decided to conduct a public awareness campaign to increase pedestrian safety and visibility.

To learn more about these or other projects, please visit MassMobility at, or subscribe to its monthly newsletter at

This article was featured in WalkBoston’s January 2017 newsletter.
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