The Link Between Disability Independence and Accessible Transportation
July 26th is National Disability Independence Day! On this day in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed. But what does this mean?
Well, we all know of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, or gender. However, people with disabilities were not included under this protection until disability activists started to lobby for laws to protect the rights of people with disabilities.
These efforts rang success when the Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990. Today we celebrate July 26th to ensure that those with disabilities have all the same accommodations and access to public facilities, such as public transportation, as anyone else would, and to ensure equity in our communities.
The History of Disability Independence
It was only a little over 30 years ago that it was legal to turn people away just for having a disability. This happened in restaurants, employment opportunities, or public transportation. Most, if not all, public places lacked accommodations such as ramps, accessible bathrooms, and accessible doors.
Today, while reasonable accommodations are required for employees and have been added to many public spaces, there are still far too many restrictions. Some bathroom stalls do not fit wheelchairs effectively, or make ramps too narrow or steep. Cramped environments can also prohibit wheelchair users from accessing public places fully.
This negligence makes it difficult or even impossible for people with disabilities to access their communities.
Barriers in Public Transportation
In the United States, the Department of Transportation requires public transit vehicles to meet certain accessibility requirements. However, there are times when these requirements are carelessly met and, though technically “ADA compliant,” these transit services remain inaccessible to certain groups.
For example, uses are meant to have space for wheelchair users. However, those that require larger wheelchairs may not be able to take advantage of this–and if the bus is too full, then wheelchair users may not be able to board the bus at all.
It’s these gaps in accessibility that cut people with disabilities off from their community.
Autonomy Leading the Way to Accessibility
Autonomous transportation is proving to be good for community in more ways than one, and accessibility has become integral in the design of these new fleets.
Many of these vehicles are all electric as well as ADA compliant. Westminster residents that took a ride in Perrone Robotics’ AV Star during MAGIC’s Autonomous Vehicle Showcase in 2021 were able to get a feel for this new generation of public transportation.
Autonomous vehicles are subject to the same ADA regulations as traditional transit options. Many feature ramps and low floor entry on the side and lifts that help wheelchair users enter, and transit agencies in some states still require a non-driving steward to provide onboard assistance.
Lagging Accessibility in Rural Communities
The issue is that in most rural areas there is a lack of funding to have these services around. Without these services, people with disabilities become isolated from their communities.
17.13% of the U.S. population lives in rural areas like Westminster. Within that population subset, 14.8% are people with disabilities–higher than the disability rate in other areas. That discrepancy between community needs and accessible services is part of what prevents people with disabilities and our aging population from remaining in rural areas like Westminster.
This is one major driver of MAGIC’s Autonomous Corridor project. Project partners have a vision for ADA compliant autonomous vehicles that will meet community residents where they are instead of residents having to find them. This will bridge that gap between residents and their communities by applying new, better forms of public transportation that are accessible by everyone.
Accommodations and equity for all members of our society should be a priority in communities like Westminster, and these autonomous vehicles are a step toward making that happen. Make sure to celebrate acceptance in your community today and all other days!