Happening Now

33 Years of ADA and the Creation of Truly Accessible Transit

July 28, 2023

Regardless of mobility issues or disabilities, we collectively benefit from more ramps, signage, lighting, and intentional design reflective of all the moving parts within successful transit.

33 Years of ADA and the Creation of Truly Accessible Transit

By Madison Ned Butler, Communications Manager

Making travel plans can be fun, but also stressful for those who find themselves struggling to get the help needed at the station and on-board. Often I am contacted by members who have valid concerns regarding accessibility and the lack of information available from many service providers to help assure they can embark on a safe, successful trip. In my work alongside members of the disability advocacy community, I have heard harrowing stories of being trapped with no assistance at the station, elevators out of service, losing balance moving between train cars, no assistance from attendants, a lack of signage, ramps, or accommodations for those with sight or hearing limitations. The ADA has been around as long as I have, yet in the 33 years since this Act was passed, there are still so many passengers who are not adequately provided for by their public transportation services.

During my time in the field, I’ve seen band-aid solutions, sketchy wheelchair lifts, and folks with limited mobility alone at the platform attempting to board without assistance. Most disturbing is folks using flimsy ramps only to fall out of their mobility devices onto the track or the concrete of the platform they’re trying to reach. No one should face the fear or embarrassment of that experience. No passenger should stomach social degradation and othering when embarking on a trip, spending their limited energy to reach a destination safely. Frankly the inconsistency in local, regional, and long-distance is as unacceptable as it is preventable.

We have heard in testimony before Congress about the quiet, slow progress surrounding station compliance as well as long-delayed updates to create more passenger equity within the National Network. I would encourage our advocates to take up ADA issues in their meetings with officials as more accessible spaces and practices are a net good for all passengers. Regardless of mobility issues or disabilities, we collectively benefit from more ramps, signage, lighting, and intentional design reflective of all the moving parts within successful transit.

The good people at Trains Magazine wrote about Amtrak station upgrade projects this week, stating “The projects include repairs and upgrades to platforms, ramps and sidewalks, and renovations to entrances and restrooms. Amtrak’s target is 100% compliance by 2029”. Compliance by 2029, if indeed their efforts are completed according to this fluctuated timeline, puts inclusion for U.S. passengers almost 40 years out from the initial passing of the ADA. This means many of the advocates who championed the ADA, many riders from our most vulnerable communities may, not be around to see quantifiable investments in their right to traverse the country safely.

Efforts such as the All Stations Accessibility Program (ASAP) Act, authored by Sen. Tammy Duckworth as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, should be championed and supported. It is the responsibility of transit providers, the Departments of Transportation, the Federal Transit Administration, and those who allocate funding to enforce compliance and fast-track projects that create a better passenger experience. For the sake of transparency, Amtrak and other providers should shed light on their timelines, and budgets, providing clear evidence that while “compliance” is legally mandatory, there is a sense of urgency to provide an optimal passenger experience preempting the needs of passengers with disabilities, galvanizing a relationship of trust between those who depend on consistent services and the companies running them.

It is not a big ask to request that information about accessibility features for each station and line be made available on their website to help folks maintain their autonomy and self-sufficiency at whatever level is appropriate. An informed traveler is a successful traveler. At the time of the ASAP Act being incorporated into the BIL, the National Transit Database showed that there were over 900 stations that were not ADA-compliant. Currently, Amtrak claims that 117 stations have been brought into compliance with an additional 67 stations being made accessible thanks to a commitment of $770 million over the last 14 years.

I want to challenge our advocates to look closely at the shortcomings of their rail providers and speak up on behalf of those who rely on rail to reach family members, medical providers, and the outside world. So many passengers use long-distance and commuter rail as a primary mode of transportation because other modes are inherently inaccessible. There is an intersectional value, something inclusive to our humanity in voicing support for repairs, retrofitting, and development of resources that provide safe, dignified passage for us all. From wayfinding to getting on board to traversing a moving train, there are still so many opportunities for service providers to listen to disabled passengers and make informed, proactive decisions that support the safety and fair treatment of us all.