For the 57 million Americans with disabilities, access means being able to use, enjoy, and participate in the many aspects of society, including work, commerce, and leisure activities. Transportation is a vital link that allows full participation. The U.S. Department of Transportation is fully committed to building an accessible transportation system that provides equal access for all Americans and prevents discrimination against persons with disabilities.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity and access for persons with disabilities in employment, State and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities and transportation. The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in air travel and requires air carriers to accommodate the needs of passengers with disabilities.
As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) we take a look at our recent past and take a peek into the future as we continue to forge the path ahead to create a transportation ecosystem that is fully accessible and usable by individuals with disabilities.
On The Horizon
- The Department is issuing the Accessibility of Airports Final Rule, to amend its rules implementing section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which requires accessibility in airport facilities located in the United States with 10,000 or more annual enplanements that receive Federal financial assistance. The final rule includes new provisions related to:
- Service animal relief areas - airports will be required to provide at least one service animal relief area in each airport terminal. This service animal relief area, with limited exceptions, must be located in the sterile area of each airport terminal to ensure that individuals with service animals are able to access service animal relief areas when traveling, particularly during layovers.
- Captioning of televisions and audio-visual displays - airport operators will be required to enable or ensure high-contrast captioning at all times on televisions and other audio-visual displays capable of displaying captions located in any gate area, ticketing area, first-class or other passenger lounge provided by a U.S. or foreign carrier, or any common area of the terminal to which passengers have access.
- Mechanical lifts for enplaning and deplaning passengers with mobility impairments – these regulations are reorganized and amended to require airports to work not only with U.S. carriers but also foreign air carriers to ensure that lifts are available where level entry loading bridges are not available.
- FTA will be launching the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center later this year, which will provide technical assistance addressing the needs of seniors and people with disabilities.
- In late summer 2015, Federal Transit Administration (FTA) plans to issue guidance on transit-related ADA requirements in a comprehensive FTA circular. The circular will clarify the requirements within the transit industry and provide guidance on how to comply USDOT’s Department of Transportation ADA regulations.
- FAA will be publishing the Advisory Circular: 150-5360 14A - Airport Accessibility for People with Disabilities –for public comment in the Federal Register. This circular is designed to assist airports in complying with federal laws and regulations regarding nondiscrimination on the basis of disability.
- The July/August 2015 issue of Public Roads magazine will have a feature article, “Access for All,” by FTA staff. The article will celebrate milestones in the epic journey to remove barriers and empower travelers of all levels of ability and feature several successful projects
- Federal Highway Administration will be updating a Questions and Answers document related to accessibility to take account of more recent guidance and technical assistance on a broad range of ADA and Section 504 (of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973) issues.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) intends to issue a final rule on minimum sound performance requirements for electric and hybrid vehicles later this year, as required by the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act.
Since passage of the ADA, transit agencies across the country have made great strides in providing accessible public transit, particularly fixed-route bus systems. Nationwide, 99.8% of buses are accessible. 97% of heavy rail cars, 92% of light rail vehicles, and 67% of commuter rail cars are accessible. All light rail stations built since 1990 are accessible.
City Government Partnerships
- USDOT Secretary Anthony Foxx challenged city leaders to raise the bar for bicyclist and pedestrian safety by joining a year-long “Mayors' Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets” effort. Over 200 cities have joined the call to action to improve access and safety for people of all ages and abilities. We are providing tools and technical assistance to help cities accomplish this goal.
- USDOT launched the Assistive Technology Transportation Research Initiative (ATTRI) to conduct research that will help improve transportation access for travelers with disabilities and older adults through the use of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) and other advanced technologies.
- In May 2015, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) awarded University of Minnesota a grant for research to determine feasible and vendor neutral solutions to mitigate indoor navigation barriers faced by the passengers with visual impairments at the airport terminals.
Policy Making and Funding
- On July 13, USDOT’s Reasonable Modification Rule came into effect - clarifying that public transportation providers are required to make reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures to ensure programs and services are accessible for individuals with disabilities.
- In January, FAA published updates to the Advisory Circular: 150-5070-6B, Airport Master Plan. The updates address structural and program accessibility for individuals with disabilities, from the parking lot, landside facilities, terminal building, to the aircraft door.
- USDOT and the US Department of Justice plan to issue Joint Technical Assistance to clarify when particular road surface treatments would be considered routine maintenance or fall within the ADA definition of alterations triggering the obligation to provide curb ramps. A companion updated questions and answers document is projected to be available in late 2015.
- FTA’s Mobility Services for All Americans (MSAA) grants help service providers respond to the transportation needs of the elderly, veterans and people with disabilities via coordinated one click/one call centers and other innovative technologies. Since 2007, in partnership with the U.S. DOT Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office, has awarded $6 million in MSAA demonstration grants, with additional $4 million from local matches.
- Recreational Trails Program funds were used to help the Forest Service develop the Accessibility Guidebook on Outdoor Recreation and Trails and several other publications to help provide access to outdoor recreation.
- Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), through its membership in U.S. Access Board’s Rail Vehicles Access Advisory Committee, is assisting in the development of recommendations to update guidelines that cover vehicles of fixed guideway systems, including rapid, light, commuter, intercity, and high speed rail.
- FRA, in collaboration with the industry, helped develop the specifications for a new bi-level car design. These have many improved accessibility features including on-board lifts on every car.