“It is hereby declared to be the national policy that elderly and handicapped persons have the same right as other persons to utilize mass transportation facilities and services; that special efforts shall be made in the planning and design of mass transportation facilities and services so that the availability to elderly and handicapped persons of mass transportation which they can effectively utilize will be assured; and that all Federal programs offering assistance in the field of mass transportation (including the programs under this Act) should contain provisions implementing this policy.” Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1970, P.L. 91-453
The National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) is the longest-running national cross-disability, grassroots organization run by and for individuals with disabilities. Founded in 1982, NCIL represents thousands of organizations and individuals including: Centers for Independent Living (CILs), Statewide Independent Living Councils (SILCs), individuals with disabilities, and other organizations that advocate for the human and civil rights of individuals with disabilities throughout the United States.
NCIL’s Transportation subcommittee, chaired by Cliff Perez, appreciates your commitment toward the enhancement of transportation services. Although this is a new century, there is still a commitment to maximize accessible transportation services, as expressed in the above 1970 statutory language which was written prior to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. The bold statement that “... handicapped persons have the same right as other persons to utilize mass transportation facilities and services;...” as expressed in the 1970 transportation act must be viewed as an unfulfilled declaration and a reminder that along with the ADA, it is still a promise and commitment yet to be honored. Although this statue establishes a national transportation policy, there are still vast inequities within the transportation system for millions of individuals with disabilities.
Forty years after the first national policy commitment and twenty years after the ADA, only minimal transit services exist, especially in rural areas. Currently, $0.80 out of every federal transportation dollar goes to highways while $0.17 is used for public transportation such as trains, rail, ferries, and buses around the country, and $0.03 for other transportation needs which is not enough money to provide for the necessary transportation options. Although SAFETEA-LU created the New Freedom Program (sec. 5317) to sustain new public transportation services and alternatives beyond ADA’s requirements to assist individuals with disabilities with their transportation needs, there is still a substantial lack of accessible and affordable transportation. This absence poses serious barriers to employment, health care, and full participation into society by individuals with disabilities and older Americans including those living in rural America which is an increasing persistent problem. While there are greater resources allocated to urban areas, the distributions for rural public transportation are significantly undemocratic. According to the Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL), “Statistically, 25% of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, but only 6% of federal transit funding is allocated to serve them. Many rural communities (1200 counties with a total population of 37 million people) have no public transit,” however, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) only states that rural areas represent the following:
- 83% of the nation’s land,
- 21% of its population
- 18% of jobs
- 2,400 of 3,000 counties
Rural areas have higher proportions of lower-income and older populations who would directly benefit from increasing the availability of affordable public transportation options. Due to the lack of affordable and accessible transportation services, aging Americans, including persons with disabilities, often remain isolated and segregated in their homes with few options to become an integrated member of their own community.
Additionally, these minimal transit services must remove architectural barriers and eliminate the discriminatory policies and procedures in all modes of transportation services as required by the ADA. This includes traveling on boats and ships and should apply to two categories of vessels operated by public entities, such as public ferry systems and private entities primarily engaged in the business of transporting people, such as cruise ships. To ensure that vessel operator’s policies do not discriminate against individuals with disabilities, vessel operators cannot charge additional fees for accessibility-related services to passengers, cannot require passengers to furnish their own attendants, and cannot deny access to passengers based on disability. Vessel operators also must provide information to passengers about the accessibility of their facilities and services and make a knowledgeable person available to resolve accessibility concerns. Also, the Access Board must establish physical accessibility standards for new construction or alteration of vessels.
In today’s society, economic competitiveness and success in the 21st Century is dependent upon revolutionary ideas and solutions providing Americans, including individuals with disabilities, with accessible transportation options which connect our cities, regions, and rural areas. The goal of NCIL’s transportation committee is to promote the inclusion of individuals with disabilities into society by designing accessible transportation systems and encouraging pedestrian safety. NCIL would like all new and innovative public and private transportation systems that transfer passengers including individuals with disabilities from one point to another to be accessible for all passengers. Also, pedestrian safety and the rights of way must be designed to maximize their access to all community based services, programs, activities employment opportunities etc. that are available to the general public.
There are three areas of concentration that will maximize community integration, involvement and participation of individuals with disabilities in the following ways:
- Rural transportation services: NCIL strongly supports increased availability and greater access to affordable and accessible rural transportation, including small airplanes.
- Livable communities: Safe and accessible rights-of-ways including complete streets & pedestrian safety that are all essential elements of community life.
- Private Transportation Services: Legislation is needed to increase the number and availability of accessible vehicles within the private transportation industry i.e. taxis, limousines, shuttle service, car rentals, buses, trains etc.
Without reforming the current outdated transportation infrastructure, increased investment in transportation alone will not solve the problems that plague Americans, especially individuals with disabilities on a daily basis who are ready for a new direction and demand transportation options that are affordable and accessible. NCIL believes that Congress must move toward a 21st Century system that focuses on accountability and results while creating jobs, providing access to opportunity for all Americans, including individuals with disabilities, reducing carbon emissions and our dependence on foreign oil, and improving America’s economic competitiveness.
By reauthorizing the Transportation Act and other transportation legislation, an affordable and accessible transportation system can be developed and monitored by using performance measures such as accountability to the taxpayers for the investments of public dollars in a wide range of transportation options, including high speed rail and other transportation systems. These objectives and performance measures are instilled to ensure that money is spent responsibly and with clear accountability and accessibility for all Americans including individuals with disabilities.
Since this is the 21st Century, NCIL strongly believes that the following eleven objectives must be integrated into any future transportation legislation to maximize access by individuals with disabilities to all municipal programs, services, and activities as required under the 1999 Supreme Court Olmstead decision. Accessible transportation includes: systems, services, vehicles, routes, stops, program communications, and all other aspects of transportation which must meet or exceed the proclamation language in the Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1970, P.L. 91-453, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the minimum requirements set forth in the ADA.
1. Address the continued discrimination against individuals with disabilities by ensuring through legislation that all public transportation is accessible to and for individuals with disabilities. According to the Rural Transportation Institute, a recent study indicates that only 7 states require public transportation to be wheel-chair accessible under Section 5310. Since individuals with disabilities are tax paying citizens, all public transportation – including vehicles purchased with federal funds under Section 5310 must be wheelchair-accessible. Public transportation must attend to the needs of all transit dependent groups, including: individuals with disabilities, older Americans, youth, and low income individuals.
2. Provide major new investments in public transportation and complete street designs which are urgently needed. The lack of transportation and pedestrian safety and right of way options in many communities is a major barrier to employment of individuals with disabilities. Individuals with disabilities heavily rely on public transportation and the expansions of transportation and complete street options will significantly improve the mobility of individuals with disabilities.
I. In June 2010, participants in a "Complete Streets" workshop sponsored by Health by Design, AARP discussed how a lack of Complete Streets Legislation is a barrier to full community integration. The lack of Complete Street & Pedestrian Safety Legislation makes it difficult at best - dangerous at worst - for millions of Americans with Disabilities to navigate within their own communities who use wheelchairs, have visual impairments, or have mobility impairments. Our communities should be safe and comfortable for everyone to use - particularly for people who are unable to or cannot choose to drive. The aging and disability caucus at the workshop were in agreement that a significant portion of Paratransit trips are necessary, not because people are too disabled to use public transportation, but because the street network is so poorly designed that they cannot reach the bus stop or train station. Complete Streets design helps create accessible and livable communities. Streets that are really complete provide all of us - not just a few - with a choice of mobility options. Complete streets means attention to details at intersections, along pedestrian routes, and at transit stops. A community with a complete streets policy routinely considers all users when transportation investment decisions are made. Providing a variety of transportation options connect citizens to the community and reduce the need to provide more costly alternatives, such as paratransit and other costly transportation services. These policies help remove barriers, transforming communities to serve everyone.
3. Include the creation of innovative, creative, universally designed, and accessible and energy efficient vehicles in any future Economic Stimulus, Climate Change, or Surface Transportation Reauthorization Legislation. Communities should receive government financial incentives to maximize and encourage fuel efficiency and greater public access to mass transportation within the public and private sectors. Legislation should maximize the development of federal incentives to increase local and state transit investment. All community and public transportation systems should be able to decide locally when and how to best deploy federal and local investment for either operating or capital uses.
4. Require states to establish an advisory committee to the state Department of Transportation including at least 51% of persons with disabilities and senior citizens, for all types of transportation services. An advisory committee should also be created in counties and/or areas where there are no transportation services, in order to help establish a transportation system to meet the needs of that county. As participants in the decision making process, individuals with disabilities bring expertise to determine what meets our needs most effectively.
5. Develop a federal standard that requires all taxi fleets to be wheelchair accessible/universally designed that can be adopted by the U.S. Access Board. At a minimum private transportation services such as taxis, limousines and/or shuttle services, must have 10-20% (with a minimum of at least one accessible vehicle) wheelchair accessible/universally designed vehicles.
6. Make all train cars, stations, and any mechanism used to assist with boarding, doorways and vestibules accessible. According to the Amtrak staff at The Piedmont in Charlotte, North Carolina, there are no accessible cars for wheelchair users. As a result, one may be able to get to his or her destination on a car that is accessible but may not be able to travel home because the car on the return train may not be accessible. There must be an end to the practice of blatantly discriminating against wheelchair users by choosing to make special stops for events like the Lexington Barbeque festival and the North Carolina State Fair and only allowing non wheelchair passengers to use these stops. Also, all stations must maximize accessibility improvements including stations not designated as key stations.
7. Create legislation that requires support for mobility management and coordination programs and voucher programs among public transportation providers, other human services agencies providing transportation services, and volunteer driver and aide programs. Mobility management services must be enhanced to better help transit and human services systems meet the needs of individuals with disabilities by establishing a dedicated funding source for these services. The mobility needs of individuals with disabilities in rural communities are significant and new initiatives to address their unique needs must be included in any transportation reauthorization.
8. Expand Section 5310 [rural general purpose], the Job Access and Reverse Commute program and the New Freedom program that serves a critical need in the disability community. Since nonprofit service providers are integral to the success of the Section 5310 program, the program should continue to focus on assisting nonprofits in meeting transportation needs. The program should be strengthened by improved oversight and transparency to help nonprofit partners understand how to access the program and assist policy makers understand how the program is being used.
9. Produce all information by transportation authorities for the purpose of informing the general public of their function and schedule of operations in an accessible format upon request. Such formats must address the needs and requests of the patron requesting such an alternative format like large print (18 size font), brail, and computer disk (digital format). In addition, transportation websites must meet the requirements set forth under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.
10. Establish a federal standard that requires all commercial airline carriers, as well as small air carriers, to provide personnel with adequate training in safe methods of transfer for passengers with mobility disabilities onto both small and large aircraft. Transfer equipment and transfer methods need to ensure safety as well as dignity in boarding and leaving both small and large planes.
11. Allow service animals including psychiatric service dogs & emotional support animals (ESA) to follow their user. In the USA, well-behaved service dogs (SDs) can go into almost any public place, including, but not limited to stores (including grocery stores), restaurants, hotels, schools, theatres, taxis, airports, airplanes, parks, bars, hospitals, zoos, etc. Where the general public is allowed to go, so is a disabled handler's SD. There are exceptions to the near universal access for SDs. Churches, some bed & breakfasts, operating rooms, and a very few other places are exempt from this law and, therefore, can choose to bar an SD from entering. These same laws do NOT apply to ESA which is not a psychiatric service dog and is not federally protected. Many years ago, the first dogs were trained for service use by the blind. Since then dogs have been trained to help the deaf and the otherwise physically disabled to become and stay independent. Currently, service dogs are also trained to help epileptic patients by detecting impending seizures and by knowing what to do when a seizure occurs. Recently, demand for psychiatric service dogs have grown and have been accepted as another category of Service Animal. Lately there has been an increase in service dog training programs, recognizing the need for dogs to help individuals with psychiatric disabilities. Some psychiatric service dog handlers may choose to refer to their dogs as Alert or Medical Response Dogs, depending on what the dog does for them. However, like all other types of Service Dogs/Animals, a Psychiatric Service Dog helps its handler mitigate his/her disability through trained work and tasks, including, but not limited to:
- Picking up/retrieving objects or aiding with mobility when the handler is dizzy from medication or has psychosomatic (physical) symptoms (i.e. pain, leaden paralysis, severe lethargy, etc.).
- Waking the handler if the handler sleeps through alarms or cannot get out of bed.
- Alerting to and/or responding to episodes (i.e. mood changes, panic attacks, oncoming anxiety, etc.).
- Reminding the handler to take medication if the handler cannot remember to use an alarm
- Alerting to and/or distracting the handler from repetitive and obsessive thoughts or behaviors (such as those brought on by Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder)
- As well as many other tasks directly related to the specific handler's disability.
Depending on the nature of the disability, an individual with a disability may need the assistance of a service dog/animal in order to use a public place, to leave home, and/or, in some cases, to live independently. Just like walkers, canes, wheelchairs, and oxygen tanks, SDs is considered vital medical equipment for their handlers. Service dogs or service animals are not pets! If people were not allowed to bring their SDs places, they would not be able to use those places, which is discriminatory.
Without access to accessible transportation, persons with disabilities will not be part of society’s economic environment and will continue to be alienated from the economic mainstream, thus causing a myriad of other problems, like homelessness and institutionalization. Without adequate and accessible transportation, individuals with disabilities are isolated from their communities and their quality of life is diminished. A comprehensive transportation policy must create sufficient accessible transportation opportunities and options for individuals with disabilities. A major tenet of this policy must be to ensure accessibility in all transportation systems that are developed with local, state or federal funds.
America cannot afford to continue business as usual. The above recommendations will help facilitate economic development and improve quality of life for all Americans, including individuals with disabilities. We look forward to working with Congress in following the recommendations above, which will help maximize societal access by individuals with disabilities and will contribute to a healthier and prosperous nation.