In the 10 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was established, about 80% of buses in the United States have become ADA accessible, said Michael Winter of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
To celebrate, the DOT and the American Public Transportation Association threw a birthday party in July honoring the 10th anniversary of the ADA. Festivities included a speech by former U.S. Senator Bob Dole, exhibits of accessible vehicles and a performance by Broadway actress Anita Hollander.
“ADA has changed transportation by making it more usable and affordable for the disabled and aging communities,” Winter said. “Thirty-three percent of the population cannot drive, due to disability, aging or other factors.”
Signed into law in 1990 by former President George Bush, ADA mandates that local, state and federal governments be accessible, that businesses with more than 15 employees accommodate disabled workers and that public accommodations, including public transportation vehicles and stations, make modifications to ensure access for disabled members of the public.
“Before the ADA, 20% of U.S. buses were accessible," said Winter, who uses a wheelchair. "By 2002, 100% of U.S. buses will be accessible.”
ADA was organized by the disabled community at a grass roots level. The main goal was the protection of civil rights and ensuring access to the same public and private facilities as the general population.
“Prior to ADA, METRO operated only paratransit service for people with disabilities,” said Julie Gilbert of the Metropolitan Transit Authority in Houston. “Over the past 10 years, staff has worked with the community to improve bus stop locations and conditions, develop operating procedures and design improved bus interiors.”
The cost of becoming ADA compliant varies from city to city, with federal funding assistance directed toward the purchase of equipment and vehicles meeting the new standards. In Seattle, Wash., about $16 million was spent in the last decade for lift additions to its fleet of buses, and the feeling is that it was money well spent.
“Our feeling is that the community has benefited dramatically from the range of improvements that have happened because of the ADA,” said Park Woodworth of the King County Department of Transportation in Seattle. “It’s pretty visible by just being on the street, or in a museum, and almost always seeing disabled people participating in functions and events.”
Quite often, the improvements benefit all involved.
“The ADA-mandated improvements have benefited everybody, even in the training of bus operators,” said Tom Whittle, transit director for the Torrance (Calif.) Transit Bus System. “We have sensitivity training in dealing with disabled passengers. That same attitude towards customer service carries over into dealing with everybody who rides the bus, so there’s a general good that occurs, in terms of facilities, relationships between everybody who rides the bus and the bus operators.”
Whittle also pointed out that the ADA-required changes benefit all passengers, not just those with disabilities.
“All the buses we are buying now are low-floor buses and they help everybody, from the slightly infirm to everybody over 40,” he said.