Access, Transportation and Progress: Everything is Not Awesome

January 8, 2016   Opinion

New Mobility Magazine | Source

the-lego-movie-awesome-e1392309318427If you took a look at my email inbox or Facebook feed lately, you’d think that transportation is more accessible than ever, and that everything is awesome. Here are a few recent stories:

But look at them another way, and you’ll see this is a collection of problem areas. After all:

  • United treated its customers so shabbily that even the feds had to do something about it. In fact, it’s so bad that the feds are finally opening up the 30-year-old Air Carrier Access Act for some overdue modernization.
  • It’s 25 years after the ADA and 70 percent of Chicago’s rail system is still not accessible.
  • Amtrak was given a 20 year extension and STILL missed its deadline by FIVE YEARS to make all of its stations accessible.
  • Uber simply doesn’t think it has to treat customers with disabilities the same as customers without. And using the local cab service, which also struggles serving people with disabilities equally? That’s just stupid. Or, as our CEO Jim Weisman eloquently says, “Partnering with a diminishing taxi industry that Uber is actively seeking to undermine and force out of business, is not a sustainable solution.” Insult, meet injury. Wound, meet salt. Face, meet stuff faces get rubbed in.

Why haven’t these things been done already? There are laws protecting the rights of people with disabilities at every level of government, from federal down to township ordinances, and yet we are not that much further along from when the ADA was passed. Some places are better than others, for sure. And you know what “places that are better than others” have in common? Advocates who don’t let up.

  • If flying some day isn’t awful for wheelchair users, it’ll be because of people like D’Arcee Neal. He went to the media after being forced to crawl off his airplane after flying from San Francisco back home to Washington, D.C. Long after other passengers had disembarked, and because he really had to use the bathroom, he crawled off the plane — passing flight attendants who did not offer to help —  to a restroom. He joins countless others who file complaints and draw media attention to the hell that is United Airlines customer care. These complaints have a cumulative effect that eventually does pay off. Ironically, Neal, an advocate with United Cerebral Palsy, had flown to San Francisco to attend a meeting on how the ride-share company Uber could be more accessible.
  • Chicago’s Commissioner for People with Disabilities is Karen Tamley. If you know her, that’s enough said. If you don’t, then know that she was practically raised by ADAPT, and has melded the iron will of an activist with the professionalism needed to make big changes from the inside. It’s no coincidence that the city, despite years and year and year and years of pushback from the powerfully strong advocacy community in Chicago, has suddenly discovered that – wow – 70 percent of its rail system is crap for disabled people. Tamley’ll be the first to tell you (and will probably tell me real soon) that she can’t do anything without the support of the Chicago disability rights community. She’s right, of course. Or will be, when she says it.
  • For good or ill, lawyers are like knights of old, champions for their causes, and the lawyers of the National Disability Rights Network wear shining armor. Right now, they’re tilting their lances at AmTrak, and already – it’s a miracle! – money has been found to upgrade stations in locales such as North Dakota, Minneapolis and more.
  • Our own organization, United Spinal, is on the frontline of the access fiasco known as Uber, and other groups are battling the “we’re just an app, not a transportation provider” transportation provider all across America, from California to Boston. And we’re winning.

So what’s the point of all of this? Transportation still stinks for people with disabilities, even after 25 years of the ADA. Cities and transit organizations still register dubious shock when faced with the realization that they must comply with the laws of the land. And they won’t ever get the chance to perform their practiced shocked-faces if people with disabilities don’t demand that they do something real. So let’s give them what they need — pressure. Otherwise, right after the 50th anniversary of the ADA ends, someone is going to write something that reads uncannily the same as this blog entry.