Federal Push Could Prompt Big Improvement in Suburban Accessibility
Minnesota is hearing a message from the USDOT loud and clear, that suburban road projects must include accessibility improvements. This message is being heeded in suburban Minneapolis, which does not want to lose federal road dollars from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). "From Apple Valley to St. Louis Park, officials say they're drawing up "ADA transition plans" to ensure better accessibility for all. A more compelling factor, however, may be a veiled threat from federal and state authorities that cities won't be eligible to get federal funding for transportation projects until they develop a plan."
The ADA, as the Minnesota news article states, does not have an enforcement mechanism other than allowing for complaints and lawsuits. This puts the onus on people who need accessible sidewalk infrastructure to take the time to push local governments or to sue. Including accessible infrastructure projects in plans is much more efficient than changes mandated via the courts.
What [suburban] city officials discover while preparing the plans can be daunting. Burnsville officials, who made their plan in 2017, found that 163 of the city's pedestrian curb ramps were noncompliant and 772 were partly compliant. Fixing everything immediately would have cost around $4 million, said Jeff Radick, Burnsville's assistant public works director.
Nevertheless, the prospect of losing out on federal money remains a good motivator.
"It had always been on our work plan as something to get completed," said Julie Long, city engineer in Bloomington, which finished its plan in November 2016. "We had heard rumblings that federal aid dollars would not be granted if you didn't have one, so I think that helped us."
Older Adults and People with Disabilities Have a Determined Friend in Congress
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D. MN), herself a double amputee and the first senator to give birth while in office, worked hard to ensure that the Federal Aviation Agency reauthorization included a requirement for airlines to track the breaking and mishandling of wheelchairs and scooters. "As of December 4, airlines were required to start tracking how many wheelchairs and scooters they break, lose, or otherwise mishandle, and the DOT says the first data will become available in early February."
The senator acted after the current Administration blocked a rule put in place during the Obama Administration.
While airlines already pay for damage they cause to wheelchairs and scooters, it can take days to have these items repaired, and the damage can ruin a business trip or vacation. But passengers with disabilities say they have no way to determine which airlines are better or worse, making every flight a gamble. In a lawsuit filed by the advocacy group Paralyzed Veterans for America, one quadriplegic veteran said he had so many bad experiences—including having his specialized wheelchair lost by an airline for hours, leaving him stranded in a terminal and dealing with health issues for days afterward—that he simply avoided all air travel.The senator has had personal experience with wheelchair problems when flying.
Transportation and Easy Transportation Info Both Lacking for Older Adults and People with Disabilities
A press release from the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center (NADTC) about its nationwide survey finds:
[O]lder adults and people with disabilities are facing significant transportation-related challenges once they no longer drive. They feel there is a lack of accessible and reliable transportation alternatives, which prevents them from doing the things they need and want to do and leaves them feeling frustrated, isolated and trapped.
With more than 1 in 5 Americans older than age 65 not driving, demand for transportation is steadily increasing as the boomer population continues to grow. Given that 600,000 people stop driving every year, there is no end to the challenge in sight. To address the growing demand for transportation services and the concern that there are insufficient resources and information available to help, the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center (NADTC) has launched the "Every Ride Counts" campaign, a national effort to increase awareness of local transportation options for older adults and people with disabilities in communities across the United States.None of the survey findings about quality-of-life consequences of deciding or being unable to drive will be a surprise to anyone who works in transportation, but they give context to the personal cost of transportation dependence, lack of choice, and living without independence to spontaneously travel in one's community and beyond. For example, "Giving up driving makes older adults and younger adults living with disabilities feel dependent on others (63 percent, 70 percent), frustrated (39 percent, 65 percent), isolated (33 percent, 55 percent), and trapped (30 percent, 54 percent)."
Transportation Services and Easy Access to Info About Them Count
To help transportation providers, non-profits, and other organizations that enable older adults, people with disabilities, and sometimes the general public, to travel, but which lack resources for marketing and other outreach, NADTC's Every Ride Counts basically offers an easy usable public relations campaign template with posters, postcards, social media posts and graphics, and advertisements. While the materials, do not magically produce transportation where it is needed, they do assist in solving the problem of alerting individuals to transit and transportation services that do exist.
MESSAGE FROM ACL
The mission of the Transit Planning 4 All project, sponsored by the Administration for Community Living, is to demonstrate the value that inclusive processes can bring to community transportation efforts. For publications and information that demonstrate the range and possibilities of inclusive planning projects, visit the Resources page of this website.