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Nonprofit's Cycling Program Helps Reduce Barriers for Disabled Area Residents

Being able to safely navigate by bicycle gives disabled residents greater access to their communities, increases social opportunities and promotes a healthy lifestyle, group says.

Programs to Educate All Cyclists attributes success for participants like Katie, pictured, to goals mutually set by the student and staff. Photo submitted.
Programs to Educate All Cyclists attributes success for participants like Katie, pictured, to goals mutually set by the student and staff. Photo submitted.

After “many years” of working with the staff of a nonprofit group that introduces cycling to developmentally disabled area residents to enhance their ability to navigate and get involved in the community, Katie walked confidently around an athletic track.

It was by all accounts a victory lap, a triumphant moment for  for both Katie and the the staff at Programs to Educate All Cyclists (PEAC), a Ypsilanti-based charity that teaches cycling skills to individuals with developmental disabilities.

As Katie  rounded the final bend in the track, fellow students and parents cheering her on heard her saying, “I did it! I met my goal!” Liz Horvat, PEAC’s development director, said in an email.

Being able to ride a bicycle generally improves the quality of life of  individuals with disabilities, giving them greater access to community resources, fostering social involvement and promoting healthy lifestyles, Horvat said.

The group’s tag line is “We believe everyone can ride.”

To reach those goals, PEAC offers two main programs: a summer program that focuses exclusively on cycling skills, and the Active Transportation Initiative, which Horvat said will be extended to Washtenaw County residents in 2014.

In that initiative, the group works with more than 150 students in three counties to help them better navigate their communities by introducing them to cycling safety skills, pedestrian and way-finding skills, and giving them the experience and knowledge to navigate the mass transit system.

The summer program operates in six communities (Saline, Dexter, Taylor, Ann Arbor, Farmington Hills and Toledo). The program “meets the students where they are,” Horvat said, and goals are individually tailored to their needs.

Some examples of goals might be learning to balance and ride a two-wheeled bike, pedaling and steering a tricycle, or increasing endurance to gain the strength to help power a tandem bike.

That’s where Katie’s big accomplishment fits in.

“Katie has been in our program for many years and every year her big goal is to balance a two-wheeled bike independently,”  Horvat said. “”This yar, on assessment day, I saw huge progress in Katie’s walking and balance on a two-wheeled bike from last year.”

Katie decided with the PEAC staff what her goal would be: to walk once around the track without assistance. They created a plan of action, each day building toward her solo lap by taking more steps than the day before. By the end of the summer, she had walked a full lap by herself.

She completed the loop in 29 minutes. She was just getting started, however. By the end ot the summer, she could circle the tack in less than 6 minutes.

John Waterman founded the charity after working informally to increase bicycle safety after a special education student at Battle Creek, where Waterman was teaching at the time, was hit by a car while riding his bicycle at night. He wasn’t wearing a helmet and was severely injured.

Waterman partnered with other nonprofits in the years following the accident, then founded  PEAC, which offered its first programs in 2004.

PEAC receives funding through a series of fundraising activities throughout the year, including September’s “Celebration in Cycling,” which draws cyclists from across Michigan to support students.

On Feb. 8, 2014, PEAC will host its 3rd Annual Ryde-A-Thon in cooperation with the RydeOn! spinning studio in Saline to raise money for progams in the Saline area.

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