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Considering the Needs of All Pedestrians

Some of us walk quickly, and some of us walk slowly. Others cannot see or hear as well as others. Still others use mobility assistive devices to help them get to where they need to be. SDOT is trying to better understand the abilities and needs of all pedestrians—in particular, those who live with disabilities.

SDOT engineers have participated in blindness simulations to experience the challenges for people with vision impairments, and traveled the sidewalks of Pioneer Square in a wheelchair to experience difficulties using a mobility assistive device. SDOT understands that simply sitting in a wheelchair and rolling on a sidewalk for 10 minutes is not the same experience as living with a mobility disability.


SDOT Engineer Johanna Landherr uses a wheelchair on a new curb ramp.

That’s why SDOT recently procured a wheelchair that is now used to test sidewalks, curb ramps, and street crossings in different areas of Seattle. This testing provides an eye-opening experience, and a valuable tool, for our engineers. That tangible knowledge can be sent back to the office for consideration when designing curb ramps and sidewalks.


SDOT Engineer John Ricardi struggles to roll up a ramp.

During the exercise demonstrated in these photos, the engineers experienced the obvious challenges of rolling up sloped ramps. Perhaps more important were the subtle challenges, or those that are not usually considered. For example, the side-to-side slope on a sidewalk, if not limited, can be exhausting for a person in a wheelchair, pushing the wheels with their arms. Changes in sidewalk surfaces or grade at the top and bottom of ramps can also disrupt momentum or stability.


Changes in grade on ramps can affect momentum or stability.

SDOT will continue to experiment using the wheelchair, as well as to participate in any exercises possible to better understand the needs of all pedestrians.

If you have any questions about accessibility within the Seattle public right-of-way, we encourage you check out SDOT’s website here, or contact SDOT’s ADA Coordinator, Michael Shaw. He can be reached at (206) 615-1974 or by email at