Chairmen Sarbanes and Reed, Ranking Members Allard and Santorum, and distinguished members of the Committee:
My name is Andrew J. Imparato and I am the President and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), based here in Washington, D.C. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify today about the importance of mass transit for the more than 56 million Americans with disabilities in the United States and their family members and friends. AAPD is a national membership organization promoting political and economic empowerment for children and adults with disabilities in the U.S. With more than 30,000 members around the country, AAPD is the largest national cross-disability membership organization in the U.S.
Before joining AAPD as its first full-time President and CEO in November of 1999, I served as general counsel and director of policy for the National Council on Disability (NCD), a small federal agency charged with advising the President and Congress on public policy issues affecting people with disabilities. While at NCD, I oversaw the production of many reports from the Council addressing transportation access issues for disabled Americans. Before joining NCD, I worked as an attorney with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Disability Policy, and the Disability Law Center in Boston, Massachusetts. On a more personal note, I am a person with a psychiatric disability (bipolar disorder) and I have used mass transit for all of my professional career, first using the "T" in Boston and then using the Metro Subway system and the MARC commuter rail for the last nine years.
When AAPD surveyed its membership last December, the members identified transportation, housing, health care and long-term care as their top four priority issues for public policy advocacy. Without accessible, affordable transportation, it is difficult if not impossible for disabled Americans to have equal access to housing, health care, or long-term care. Similarly, meaningful access to transportation is critical for Americans with disabilities to participate fully in basic activities such as education, employment, worship, job training, recreation, and other features of community life that most people take for granted.
According to a population-based survey conducted in 2000 by the Harris Poll and funded by the National Organization on Disability, approximately 30 percent of disabled Americans have a problem with inadequate transportation, compared to approximately 10 percent of the general population. Moreover, according to a 1994-95 survey by the National Center for Health Statistics, almost 5.5 million Americans report that they never drive because of an "impairment or health problem."
Viewed collectively, these statistics paint a picture that disabled Americans are a key stakeholder for mass transit providers around the country. Accessible, affordable mass transit is a necessary prerequisite for any community that seeks to live up to the letter and spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For America to achieve the goals of the ADA—equality of opportunity, full participation, economic self-sufficiency, and independent living—America must expand its investment in accessible, affordable mass transit. Although the disability community has seen significant progress in the accessibility of mass transit systems in the almost 12 years since the enactment of ADA, we remain concerned about inconsistent compliance with the ADA’s requirements. Moreover, mass transit often falls victim to the budget axe, thanks in part to America’s love affair with the automobile and our collective inability to prioritize mass transit as the preferred means for transporting our public. This causes those who rely on mass transit to be forced to use a taxicab for many destinations, an option this is often neither accessible nor affordable.
Over the last several months, Easter Seals Project ACTION has convened two meetings of leaders from the disability and transit communities to develop joint recommendations and action plans for increasing availability of accessible, affordable transportation. The recommendations that were developed represent the broad goals of the participants and efforts underway to work together to achieve these goals. Many of the recommendations can and should be addressed in the reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) and other legislative vehicles. The primary recommendations developed during these national meetings are:
The participants in the national meetings placed a significant emphasis on the need for coordination of services, information and training. The goal of the reauthorization of TEA-21 should be that accessibility is built into all aspects of transit operations and that existing services are better coordinated to meet the needs of people with disabilities.
In addition to the specific priorities that emerged from the summit, I want to take this opportunity to emphasize the importance of strong enforcement of the access requirements of the ADA in the context of mass transit. In 2000, the National Council on Disability issued a report called Promises to Keep: A Decade of Federal Enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In this report, NCD documented significant problems with lack of consistency in enforcement both within and across federal agencies. In the executive summary, NCD commented:
The Department of Transportation is one of the clearest examples of inconsistent intra-agency enforcement activity. Six quasi-independent modes with DOT are responsible for enforcing the many transportation provisions of ADA. Each mode is different, sometimes strikingly so, in the interpretation of ADA requirements, the approach to complaint investigation, and the priority placed on public education. Some modes habitually gave the covered entities broad discretion in meeting ADA’s accessibility requirements and timetables, while others communicated a clear expectation of timely compliance. While some modes were proactive in disseminating public information with specific information to consumers about their rights, others provided only the most general information on grounds that it was not within their purview to provide more specific information about rights under the law. This kind of inconsistency greatly undercut DOT’s overall effectiveness in establishing an expectation of compliance with ADA’s nondiscrimination mandate among all the covered entities within its purview.
NCD’s findings were echoed in the recent national meetings convened by Project ACTION and in AAPD’s experience as a disability membership organization. Among the specific issues requiring attention is the ongoing need to increase the accessibility of fixed route service. Advocates noted that ADA compliance had focused largely on accessible vehicles, and customer service has been neglected. For instance, the failure (sometimes refusal) of drivers to call stops limits access for blind and visually impaired riders; and the ongoing refusal to allow service animals to board buses denies access to people with a wide range of disabilities who use service animals. People also raised problems with broken lifts, resulting in no access for a user with a mobility impairment who requires a functional lift to board. Some chronic problems are being addressed by automated announcements and low floor buses, on which all passengers board by ramp. In the context of the metro system here in D.C., the Washington Post has documented recently the chronic problem of elevators going out of operation and significantly increasing the travel time of people who rely on elevators to take the metro.
Advocates have also raised concerns about the broader access of communities, noting the need to work with local governments to ensure that inaccessible sidewalks and lack of curb cuts do not limit access to fixed route transit. When the path of travel from a person’s house or apartment to the fixed route system is not accessible, many riders are forced to take paratransit, which is more costly and less efficient.
Although NCD’s report and the national meetings resulted in a number of specific recommendations for improving enforcement of the transportation requirements in ADA, I am concerned that we must also remain vigilant that we not move backward with regard to accessibility. Some would seek to use changes in the political environment to revisit the access requirements in ADA either in statute or through administrative interpretation. To avoid administrative erosion and to enhance enforcement, I strongly recommend that the Office of the Secretary of Transportation assert leadership in developing and implementing a strong and consistent expectation of demonstrated compliance with the ADA’s access requirements among all of DOT’s grantees. It is critical that the ADA be viewed as a national civil rights law requiring strong, consistent and fair enforcement, not simply a technical regulation to be administered like a grant requirement within the discretion of a particular mode.
Perhaps as important as the increased role of the Office of the Secretary, I strongly recommend that the Department of Transportation receive significant new funding to carry out an ongoing program of trainings in multiple locations and multiple languages for end-line consumers, advocates, and transit providers so that they know ADA’s requirements and what to do when a violation occurs.
Thank you again for providing me this opportunity to testify. I welcome the opportunity to answer any questions that you may have.
Home | Menu | Links | Info | Chairman's Page