Members of the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) joined people with disabilities from across metropolitan Washington and members of the media to raise awareness about the important role accessible transportation plays in getting people with disabilities to work.
To highlight the typical workday commute of people with disabilities, several travel teams—each including a person with a disability, a regional transportation leader from the TPB and a member of the media—trekked to today’s press conference at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) headquarters near Union Station. The TPB’s Access for All (AFA) advisory committee sponsored the event, Disability Awareness Day, which focused on pedestrian, bus, rail and para-transit access.
Takoma Park Mayor Kathy Porter, chair of the AFA, commuted to the conference with Phillip Strong of the American Council for the Blind from Silver Spring on a Ride-On bus and then Metrorail. “The region needs to work together to create a transit and pedestrian system that provides access for all,” Porter said. She noted the helpful audible crossing signals in Silver Spring’s newly-developed downtown, but also said the region needs to work on getting bumpy strips on all Metrorail platforms, making sure all buses are lift-equipped and improving pedestrian access, especially at busy intersections.
Transportation is a major barrier for people with disabilities in gaining employment. According to a 2004 National Organization on Disability (NOD)/Harris national survey, persons with disabilities are twice as likely to have inadequate transportation as persons without disabilities. In the Washington region, the unemployment rate for individuals with disabilities is also twice that of the general population.
“Reliable and dependable employees need reliable and dependable transportation,” John Hudson, an AFA member and Program Manager for Disability Services in Fairfax County, said at the press conference. Hudson, an electric wheelchair user, commuted to the conference with Fairfax Supervisor Linda Smyth on MetroAccess.
“The Washington region has a complex, multi-jurisdictional and multi-modal transportation system,” said TPB Chair Christopher Zimmerman, who moderated the press conference and commuted with Arlington resident and AFA member Dr. Bud Keith. “Much has been done to improve access to the region’s transit system and pedestrian environment for people with disabilities, but there is still more to do,” Zimmerman said.
Dr. Keith added, “We are not doing this for us, but for you. As you age, you might need a wheelchair. Your vision could get worse.” The retired Federal employee with a visual impairment who has been working for better transportation access for people with disabilities for about 35 years told participants that improved pedestrian and transit access will benefit all of society.
Robert “Bobby” Coward, local activist for people with disabilities and president of DC Adapt, mentioned how Metro is addressing some of the needs of people with disabilities. But he also pointed out day-to-day accessibility issues such as elevator outages in the Metrorail system, elevator buttons that are inaccessible, and the gap between rail cars and the platform.
At the TPB’s October meeting, which followed the press conference, members voted to support a resolution recognizing “the importance of accessible and dependable transit service, sidewalks, and safe pedestrian crossings for people with disabilities.” The AFA is recommending that a comprehensive curb-to-curb study needs to be conducted to identify the most cost-effective ways to serve the greatest number of people. AFA will continue to work for improved Metrorail and bus reliability and coordinate accessibility efforts with regional and local transit providers.