WASHINGTON – When David Wenzel rides a bus,he hopes the driver knows what to do.
Wenzel,who has used a wheelchair since losing both legs and his left arm in the Vietnam War,needs to have his chair secured before the driver takes off,as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
But this doesn't always happen. Once,on a tour bus in New Orleans,the driver did not secure Wenzel's chair. He and the chair rolled two feet back when the bus lurched forward and two feet forward when the bus stopped suddenly.
“It's not a good way to meet people,” he said at a news conference Monday to release a report that says great strides have been made in the transportation system,but much more must be done to accommodate Americans with disabilities.
The National Council on Disability released the report,“The Current State of Transportation for People with Disabilities in the United States.”
The report found that,while the ADA has helped,disabled people living in rural areas are especially likely to have much less accessible transportation. A lack of requirements and regulations for taxi services has also hindered progress.
“There are still many barriers … that prevent full inclusion of Americans with disabilities,” said Wenzel,of Scranton,Pa.,and an NCD member.
The report cited a 2002 U.S. Bureau of Transportation study that found that 6 million people with disabilities have difficulties obtaining the transportation they need.
Some of the problems described in the report were enumerated by Robert Coward,president of Washington ADAPT,an advocacy group committed to equal transportation access. He noted that he has had to ride in his wheelchair for several miles when elevators in Washington's Metro system are out of order. He said the system doesn't try hard enough to notify the public about elevator problems.
Inadequate funding is the major reason transportation services aren't available for people with disabilities,said William Millar,president of the American Public Transportation Association,which represents 1,500 transportation agencies and companies.
Unemployment ranges from 60 to 70 percent for disabled Americans,due largely to unreliable transportation,said Graham Hill,NCD member.
The report calls for higher standards than the ADA requires,but Michael Winter,director of the Office of Civil Rights at the Federal Transit Administration,said his agency would “take all recommendations seriously.” Winter also uses a wheelchair.
Although a lack of adequate funding was cited as problematic,97 percent of buses are now wheelchair accessible,Millar said.
The council supports President George W. Bush's New Freedom Initiative and Congress' efforts to rewrite the Transportation Equity Act,both of which will examine problems and promote solutions under ADA.
While the report suggests some alternate modes of transportation,such as using volunteer drivers to cover rural areas and off-hour transportation for rural residents,it says equality and knowledge are crucial in the transportation system.
“Sometimes people just don't know,” Wenzel said of drivers and passengers who don't know what to do when he or another disabled person on public transportation systems.