Transportation System Proves Unable to Accommodate
A new report (PDF) published this month by the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) has revealed major accessibility barriers in Amtrak stations across the country, preventing many people with disabilities from using this important form of transportation.
In collaboration with the Rochester Center for Independent Living, NDRN investigated 94 stations in 25 states and the District of Columbia, asserting that there are accessibility problems in 89 of these stations, despite two-decade old ADA regulations. Union Station, one of the most widely used stations, also had accessibility issues.
Beyond inadequate ramps and a lack of elevator options, some of these accessibility issues in stations include narrow restrooms that cannot accommodate wheelchairs, ticket counters that are too high for people in wheelchairs, and platforms that are not level with trains. Stations that have one or more of these issues make it extremely difficult for people with disabilities to navigate. Amtrak’s structural barriers can deter a person with a disability from using their services because it can be almost impossible to maneuver the station. Therefore, Amtrak is not an option for many people with disabilities. Depending on where one lives, the inability to use Amtrak may make it extremely difficult for a person with a disability to get to work or school, fundamental needs for any citizen.
“Our reviews show that Amtrak’s negligence goes beyond simply ignoring the Americans with Disabilities Act, but demonstrates a deliberate disregard for passengers with disabilities,” said Curt Decker, executive director of NDRN. “If you are a person with a disability who wishes to travel on Amtrak, the message is pretty clear: you are not welcome here.”
Although some of these issues can be fixed quickly, more complex problems are expensive and require extensive attention to meet the accessibility needs of people with disabilities. Accessibility issues prove to be increasingly problematic as the disability community represents a significant portion of the ridership. The proportion of passengers with disabilities grew by 20 percent in 2013.
Amtrak only owns a small portion of the almost 500 stations, making it difficult for the agency to ensure uniform ADA compliance across the country. However, Congress recognized this fact upon the passing of the ADA and gave Amtrak 20 years to come into ADA compliance. This plan would allow joint owners of stations, who are also responsible to meet ADA regulations, the opportunity to share costs. However, Amtrak did not meet this 2010 deadline. Furthermore, Congress gave Amtrak funds directed at accessibility improvements when recognizing that ADA compliance would not be possible by 2010, yet we still see a failure to make necessary accommodations for people with disabilities.
Highlighting Amtrak’s accessibility issues brings to light questions about accessibility in other forms of public transportation. Issues with broken elevators in Metro stops and New York’s subway system prove to be infrastructural barriers that make it insurmountable for people with disabilities to use these types of transportation, again limiting the disability community’s options for commuting around a city.
NDRN has committed to advocating for improved Amtrak accessibility and is hoping to utilize this report to encourage Congress and the Department of Justice to put this issue on their agendas to produce concrete commitments to improved Amtrak accessibility. This sort of pressure is intended to produce results that fix the extensive problems associated with Amtrak’s inability to serve people with disabilities.