Communities with a high “livability” rating for seniors and people with disabilities don’t just benefit those groups of people, the AARP says. Rather, all residents thrive and a community prospers when it develops opportunities for everyone.
Cities that develop and maintain sidewalks and curbs according to Americans with Disabilities Act standards increase community access for people of all ages, the AARP found. Another important community quality is affordable housing in neighborhoods with easy access to work and school, healthy foods and health care.
Carlsbad is the only city in New Mexico that is a member of AARP’s Network of Age-Friendly Communities, but other cities in the state also have high ratings on the AARP Livability Index, livabilityindex.aarp.org, a Web-based tool to measure the quality of life in American communities across multiple dimensions: housing, transportation, neighborhood characteristics, environment, health, opportunity, and civic and social engagement.
The Livability Index also helps users learn how to make changes in their communities.
Membership in the Network of Age-Friendly Communities means that the community’s leaders and residents have made a commitment to actively work toward making their city a great place to live for people of all ages.
Carlsbad’s score of 50 on the Livability Index is just below Santa Fe’s score of 54 and Albuquerque’s score of 53, in line with the national average.
The Reeve Foundation in 2015 ranked Albuquerque second in the country for people using wheelchairs, based on climate, air quality, the number of physicians, rehabilitation centers, accessible fitness facilities, employment opportunities and paratransit systems.
A 2014 U.S. News and World Report analysis also ranked Albuquerque as one of the best cities to live in and cover basic expenses with only Social Security income. According to AARP researchers, 1 in 3 New Mexicans over the age of 65 rely solely on Social Security income.
Consideration of individual needs and preferences are extremely important aspects of what makes a community more livable, according to researchers at the AARP Public Policy institute. People with and without disabilities have differing needs.
For instance, people who are deaf might prefer to communicate in American Sign Language and wish to live in communities where other people use sign language. ASL employs signs made by moving the hands combined with facial expressions and body position.
Accessible sidewalks are especially important for people with vision impairments and people who use wheelchairs and walkers, but they also aid in the delivery of goods and services and support all residents’ ability to travel by foot, bike or other means to access nearby parks, libraries and recreational amenities.
Neighborhood access to recreational facilities also correlates with increased physical activity of children and adolescents, according to a 2009 comprehensive review of 108 studies by researchers with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Santa Fe, a city with numerous public parks and recreation centers, the Genoveva Chavez Community Center’s Aquatics Center has an age-friendly design, with three swimming options: a warm-water therapy pool; a cool-water, Olympic-size lap pool; and a children’s play pool.
Some communities are increasing their focus on the needs of people with disabilities. A Northern California parent organization, for instance, is in the planning stages of developing an integrated neighborhood for young adults with intellectual disabilities, according to a March 7 article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
But Heidi Cartan, a parent managing the project, said in the article that housing in the development will be rented to those with and without disabilities. “We don’t want to create a colony of people with disabilities.”
Andy Winnegar has spent his career in rehabilitation and is based in Santa Fe as a training associate for the Southwest ADA Center, 800-949-4232. He can be reached at email@example.com.