City Bus No Longer a Reliable Option for Wheelchair Users

For people with disabilities living in metro areas, the ADA is supposed to ensure that public transportation is accessible for everyone. But how wheelchair accessible are our public transit systems? What about people with disabilities who don’t live in metro areas? What will the future bring for travelers with disabilities who cannot afford private accessible transportation?

A wheelchair user’s biggest fear is the loss of his or her independence.

“A nursing home for me equals a death sentence. My independence is one thing I will never give up,” says one of M.C. Mobility System’s Facebook friends in reaction to a recent blog article about the increased incidence of people with disabilities getting trapped in nursing homes, “I just wish the state…would help me.”

Accessible housing and wheelchair transportation are two of the most important factors in a person with disabilities being able to maintain his or her independence. Unfortunately, both of those factors can be very costly and many wheelchair or scooter users have to seek financial assistance from non-profit organizations and government entities.

“If you have never been touched by disability in your family, it can be easy to assume that the community services provided to people with disabilities constitute ‘handouts’ or ‘welfare programs’,” says Ann Bransom, Marketing Manager for M.C. Mobility Systems, a company that sells wheelchair vans and performs housing modifications for the disabled, “That is simply not the case. We all pay taxes so that in the event that we are in an accident, face a medical crisis, or simply join the rest of Americans who are living well past our body’s mobility, our world will remain accessible. The ADA is not just for people with disabilities. It’s for all of us.”

According to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) the “Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity and access for persons with disabilities.” That being said, public transit systems are constantly being sued over not complying with ADA laws as it pertains to disabled passengers. For the most parts, these lawsuits come down to cities disagreeing with passengers over what constitutes “reasonably accessible”, a hallmark of most ADA cases.

One lawsuit cites an example in Oregon, where bus stops in Bend are accused of violating ADA, because “at some stops, the bus had to find places other than the designated stop, such as driveways, to deploy the wheelchair lift. At other stops, the wheelchair lift was dropped on grassy areas or unstable dirt patches, making it impossible or difficult for those in wheelchairs to use the stops.”

Example of bus deploying a wheelchair lift in unaccessible conditions. Photo Courtesy of MoBikeFed on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mobikefed/.

There is also the issue of people who do not live in metro areas. Paratransit services can be even more difficult to find. While the FTA’s budget has increased slightly for 2011 from 2010, the money allocated for research technology grants aimed at making our transit systems more accessible as decreased from $68 million in 2010 to $30 million in 2011. $20 million in grants are being given to private transit companies, who seem to be better-equipped at serving disabled drivers. Other trends show federal dollars going toward making more taxis wheelchair accessible, which will open up new options to disabled passengers.

Regardless, it seems that federal agencies are either stalled or taking steps backward in terms of increasing accessibility for disabled passengers. When all else fails, people with disabilities will have to rely on themselves to advocate for better public transportation and also to find means to pay for their own personal transportation alternatives, such as lowered floor minivans with ramps or wheelchair and scooter lifts for cars, trucks, and sedans.

“A big player in this equation is going to end up being the mobility dealers,” says Bransom. “We have an ethical obligation to do a better job at serving this community who is unable to afford our products without significant assistance. That might mean taking extra time with our customers to assist them in finding non profits and government agencies who have funds available for their specific needs. It’s going to require some in our industry to stop acting like car salesmen and start acting like the advocates we need to be. The city bus is simply not a good means for independence for the majority of people with disabilities.”

M.C. Mobility Systems is committed to helping people with disabilities find accessible transportation options no matter what. Check out our funding sources page for more information about organizations that can help pay for wheelchair vans and other mobility products, or setup an appointment with a mobility consultant who can help you further explore your options.