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July 31, 2003

National Council on Disability Says Lack of Accessible Transportation is Major Barrier for People with Disabilities

From: U.S. Newswire (press release), DC - Jul 31, 2003

To: National Desk

Contact: Mark S. Quigley of the National Council on Disability, 202-272-2004, 202-272-2074 TTY

WASHINGTON, July 31 /U.S. Newswire/ -- The National Council on Disability (NCD) today released an excerpt from its annual report, "National Disability Policy: A Progress Report" ( ), which highlights a number of issues related to transportation, including barriers to accessible transportation and the status of statutory and regulatory provisions designed to advance access and equity in the nation's transportation systems.

According to NCD member Joel Kahn, "The lack of accessible transportation is a major barrier to independence for people with disabilities. Many people with disabilities are desperately trying to improve the quality of their lives, but are frustrated by a lack of services including accessible transportation."

Air Travel: The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) continues to provide relief to travelers with disabilities thanks to the diligence of the Department of Transportation (DOT) and, more recently, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Potential tensions for air travelers with disabilities from tight security since 9/11 have been avoided thanks to their leadership. NCD commends these agencies, most especially for their outreach to the disability community, the development of a training curriculum for airport security screeners that includes disability specific issues, support from the DOT Aviation Consumer Disability Hotline, and the formation the DOT Disability Coalition.

In August 2002, DOT and NCD entered into a memorandum of understanding that provides for collaboration between NCD, the airline industry, and the disability community for the development of guidance on serving customers who use service animals, who use oxygen, and or who are deaf and hard of hearing, and to help DOT with its ACAA forums. NCD lists other issues that are yet to be accomplished, including completion of training materials and operational guidelines (under development) in a number of key disability-related areas, including access for non-ticketed people to gate areas, and the location and retrieval of screened bags by passengers with visual impairments.

NCD raises several concerns about the future effectiveness of the ACAA and includes the following recommendations:

-- The transfer of TSA into the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will result in expertise likely being divided between the DHS, TSA, and DOT's Aviation Consumer Protection Division. Sustained and focused effort and effective coordination in ACAA administration, enforcement, and monitoring will be required if the ACAA is not to be relegated to confusion and insignificance.

-- The Office of Management and Budget decision to cease the air traveler satisfaction survey process is cause for concern.

-- Services and accommodations for passengers with disabilities could be jeopardized by airline personnel cutbacks. To avoid longer waits for assistance, unavailability of escort personnel, and other difficulties, NCD recommends that DOT clarify the responsibilities of air carriers and airport personnel for providing access to passengers with disabilities.

-- The new ticket machines at check-in counters are inaccessible to many passengers with disabilities, including people who are blind or people who have motor or cognitive disabilities, resulting in delays in lines of people waiting to be served by a dwindling number of counter agents. NCD recommends that DOT and the Department of Justice address the accessibility issues posed by these machines and by other new customer-service technology, moving expeditiously to require that they incorporate already widespread accessibility features now common in the ATM and point-of-sale machine sectors.

-- NCD also renews its recommendation from the last annual report that DOT must continue negotiations with foreign carriers to ensure their compliance with the Air Carrier Access Act.

TEA 21 Reauthorization: The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) is scheduled for reauthorization in 2003. A number of issues in TEA-21 are significant to people with disabilities in the United States, a large portion of whom are dependent on public transportation for mobility. The Olmstead decision and the New Freedom Initiative (NFI) commitment to community integration for people with disabilities raise a number of significant issues for this reauthorization of TEA-21. To ensure community transportation resources are sufficient and flexible enough to meet the needs for participation by many people with disabilities and older people, NCD makes the following recommendations:

-- State and local transportation agencies should be involved in state Olmstead planning processes.

-- NFI pilot demonstration transportation projects and matching grants to nontraditional providers or planners should be included in the new law.

-- Transportation practices should be sufficiently flexible to allow for use of accessible vehicles and, where appropriate, for other technology or necessary support services.

-- The practices and priorities of paratransit systems must be re-evaluated in light of contemporary needs, ensuring that they maximize the goals of community life and employment for Americans of all ages with disabilities.

-- The design of major transportation research projects and experiments must include input from people with disabilities.

-- The law should include a provision conditioning the use of federal funds on compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act in all transportation plans and projects systems.

-- The new law should include requirements and funding authorization for continued research in all the subjects noted in this section-for pilot and demonstration projects in various environments around the country, and for evaluating and disseminating results-and provisions for incorporating the most successful technologies and strategies into our overall transportation infrastructure.

NCD also points out additional emerging issues, including (1) pedestrian safety-placing a light rail stop near an industrial park does little good if a six-lane highway must be crossed without benefit of an accessible pedestrian crossing; (2) implementation of ADA requirements for detectable warning edges on mass transit platforms and in hazardous pedestrian areas; and (3) systematic implementation of technological advances in accessible pedestrian signals.

Finally, NCD includes a cautionary note about additional challenges to the paratransit systems. With local and state budgetary problems leading to potential cutbacks in fixed-route mass transit service, NCD points to the likelihood of increased reliance on paratransit services by people with disabilities who wish to avoid personal health or safety challenges on fixed-route systems such as longer waits in extreme temperatures or safety challenges at isolated stops. NCD states that DOT must be vigilant in maintaining fairness and effectiveness as transit agencies consider offsetting the growth in paratransit demand with trip-eligibility criteria.

For more information, contact Mark Quigley or Martin Gould at 202-272-2004.


/© 2003 U.S. Newswire 202-347-2770/