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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Livable Communities Project 2003

What is the Livable Communities Project?

The Livable Communities project is an ongoing effort to document the impact of the environment on disability. The project identifies criteria that people who are blind or visually impaired in the United States use to rate livable communities, and it highlights the role of advocacy in creating enabling environments.

After an extensive data collection phase—based on input from focus groups, informal interviews, an online survey, and other methods—the American Foundation for the Blind is proud to announce that we have assembled both a list of criteria most commonly used by people who are blind/visually impaired in assessing the "livability" of communities, and this year's list of most highly rated places.

In April 2003, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) announced the selection of "The Five Most Livable Cities and Towns in the United States" for people who are blind or visually impaired. In addition to listing the five most livable communities in America, as rated by blind people themselves, AFB will list the most livable large city and small town in each geographic region of the United States—northeast, midwest, west, and south. AFB is also including a "Great Features Mention" to highlight innovative environmental modifications from communities that have responded to the efforts of blind or visually impaired citizens to make where they live more livable.

Why Was This Project Begun? Why Is It Necessary?

Blind or visually impaired people often cannot fully participate in the life of their local communities because of the many barriers they face—for example, lack of public transportation, negative attitudes toward guide dogs, poor street lighting at night, obstructed sidewalks or even, in some towns, no sidewalks in residential areas. With the goal of highlighting communities that have found creative solutions to these, or other, barriers, AFB launched the Livable Communities Project, a national research project that began to collect information about the "livability" of cities and towns in the United States from the point of view of people who are blind or visually impaired.

The several mainstream ratings of "livability" in circulation were based primarily on criteria that have not featured the needs of blind or visually impaired residents. For example "length of commute" is typically measured in hours spent driving. Similarly, what constitutes "good public schools" may be different for children requiring braille instruction than for sighted children; having a nationally ranked educational institution is no guarantee that the district is familiar with accommodations for blind students, or has enough itinerant Teachers of the Visually Impaired. People had requested information such as this, which—until now—has not existed.

This project will provide invaluable information to blind or visually impaired individuals—and their families—who are considering college attendance decisions, tourist destinations, or moving for employment or retirement. Mainly it will assist people who do not want to move, but who want to make where they live more "livable."

How Was the Project Conducted? How Were the Winning Communities Selected?

AFB conducted a series of focus groups, informal interviews, and a survey (by phone, Internet, and e-mail) to gather information from blind or visually impaired citizens around the country, about the criteria they use to evaluate the livability of a community; we also asked people if they wanted to nominate their community during this process. An Advisory Committee was formed to guide the direction of the research, the selection process, and the dissemination of the results. AFB culled from all the nominations places that contained the highest number of important environmental features, wrote brief cases for each of the "finalists", and presented these to the Advisory Committee to make the final vote.

AFB used a "life stages" approach, asking about what is important for children and youth, working-age adults, and seniors. Click here for more detail about the methods.

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