APTA | Passenger Transport
July 19, 2010

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» 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT
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The classifieds in this issue offer a diverse group of jobs including a transit general manager and several other executive positions!

COMMENTARY

Presidentís Perspective: Reflections on ADAís 20th Anniversary
BY WILLIAM MILLAR, President, APTA

Happy birthday, ADA!

Americans have more and better public transportation in part because of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. I thought that, on the occasion of the Act’s 20th anniversary, it was a good time to take a look (both back and forward!) at how the public transportation industry has improved the accessibility to transit services and facilities not only for persons with disabilities, but also for all Americans.

Let’s consider just a few of the changes in public transportation resulting from ADA’s passage:

* Buses and rail cars come better equipped with handrails that certainly help some people with disabilities—and also help many other riders—every day.

* Kneeling mechanisms on buses, low floors on light rail vehicles, and high-level platforms on commuter rail systems make it easier not only for persons with disabilities, but also for people without disabilities, to use public transportation.

* Driver or automated stop announcements make it easier for all passengers to know where they are.

And the list goes on and on and on.

Changes Over Time
Most of the 106 million Americans born in the last 25 years don’t know there was any other way, but there was a time when buses were not accessible to persons in wheelchairs; where rail stations were only built with stairs, not elevators and escalators; and where the administrative headquarters of transit systems could not be entered by a person in a wheelchair.

But such things as these are rapidly becoming relics of the past as transit systems have implemented ADA.

To do this, however, new types of service and technologies had to be invented or adapted. These range from the low-tech solution of installing raised bumps at the edge of a rail platform to help people with sight difficulties detect its edge, to the complex way-finder systems that use radio signals to guide people through stations.

Some technologies have turned out to be largely transitional, such as wheelchair lifts on buses. These were initially widely implemented, but now most transit systems have moved to low floor buses with ramps. Technologically, this is much simpler and easier for most customers to use.

How have these technologies and techniques been developed? Many were created by the original equipment manufacturers, suppliers, and transit systems trying to do a better job of serving their customers.

Their efforts received a big boost when, in 1991, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Equity Act provided funding for Project ACTION, sponsored by Easter Seals.

Over the years, Project ACTION has developed financial support for technologies, techniques, and training—all to make public transportation more accessible and usable by people with disabilities, not to mention all persons opting to ride.

APTA’s Access Efforts
APTA has been actively assisting its members in implementing ADA in many ways.

For example, APTA’s Access Committee continues to address elements related to ADA paratransit services, and it has also focused on accessibility subjects crossing all modes—such as senior mobility, technology, and regulatory issues. In addition, APTA’s Accessibility Consensus Standards program has developed standards and recommended practices on rail gap safety management, paratransit call centers, and fixed route stop announcements. On top of all this, APTA has fulfilled requests from its transit agencies for peer reviews of paratransit operations. We have completed four of those in the last year and a half.

APTA works closely with Project ACTION and has developed relationships with many other partners who have been helpful in implementing ADA. They include:

* Federal Transit Administration Office of Civil Rights;
* Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy;
* Department of Education Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers;
* The U.S. Access Board;
* Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund;
* American Association for People with Disabilities;
* Paralyzed Veterans of America;
* United Spinal Association; and
* National Council of Independent Living Centers.

In this issue, in fact, you’ll find perspectives from APTA members and persons in the disabilities field on what ADA has meant to our industry.

Research is also a critical component of improving access. APTA collaborates with university centers that examine how best to serve persons with disabilities. And, through the Transit Cooperative Research Program, experts have produced close to 50 reports—all revolving around ADA and accessibility.

From “Transit Operations for Individuals with Disabilities” to “Policies and Practices for Effectively and Efficiently Meeting ADA Paratransit Demand,” we have worked with researchers to ensure that transit systems continue to examine problems, identify solutions, and find ways—whenever possible—to innovate.

So, what has all this meant for persons with disabilities? Well, last year there were nearly 200 million paratransit trips taken mostly by persons with disabilities—and hundreds of millions more trips taken by persons with disabilities on fixed route buses and rail services.

This increased mobility has enabled persons with disabilities to find jobs more easily, to participate more fully in society, and to contribute in more ways than all but the most ardent proponents of ADA could have imagined before its passage.
 All these improvements, of course, have not come without cost. Many transit systems have allocated significant sums in their budgets to ensure that these accessibility improvements are made, that complementary paratransit services are offered—and often, the importance of this tremendous investment has not been recognized.

All this leads one to ask: What does the future hold?

One answer might be—more of the same: More persons with disabilities able to participate more easily in society as service is expanded and improved. Still, some stations and facilities must be made accessible, but with 99 percent of transit buses, 84 percent of rail cars, 94 percent of bus stations, and 85 percent of light rail stations already there—and hundreds of millions of trips made each year by persons with disabilities—it’s clear much progress has been made.

So once more, let me say: Happy birthday, ADA!

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