There’s no one face of disability. Instead, people with disabilities are affected in a number of ways, and it impacts how they get around. Agencies can do their part to serve impacted riders, from appropriate staff training and rider assistance, to offering helpful tools, such as rider apps.
Discover why accessibility in public transportation is vital today, the value of paratransit, and the ways in which agencies can better serve riders with disabilities.
Why Paratransit Is Necessary
The most obvious answer to the value of paratransit is that it’s required. According to the ADA National Network, “ADA complementary paratransit service provides origin-to-destination service and must be available where fixed-route service exists.”
With ever-increasing transportation options—such as microtransit—it’s easy to wonder if this is still true. The answer is a resounding “yes,” because microtransit can’t yet fully replace what paratransit offers.
In fact, paratransit has a host of unique requirements that only it can satisfy at this time:
- Complementary paratransit service must be provided within 3/4 of a mile of a bus route or rail station at the same hours and days for no more than twice the regular fixed-route fare.
- Drivers are required to assist riders with boarding, alighting, and accessing safe and secure seating as needed.
The fact of the matter is that “disabled” means many things—and there are unique accommodations and requirements in public transit that aren’t necessarily present in microtransit.
Riders with visual impairments need a handful of specific accommodations to help them navigate the world. In public transportation, one of the most obvious is service animals to accompany them for assistance.
But agencies themselves have to do their part too. Service information must be available in accessible formats, such as large print, Braille, or electronic formats, plus stops must be announced so riders know their location.
People with cognitive disabilities have a diminished capacity to understand what’s going on around them. As a result, these riders might not know where to get off or how to navigate to their destination independently.
Public transportation mostly has a standard to use signage with simple text or universally understood graphics to help with navigation, but that’s just one piece. Operators can provide assistance too, ranging from:
- Helping riders look for landmarks
- Providing PA announcements to help identify the correct stop
- Announcing stops upon request
Using public transportation means making quick decisions, which can be especially difficult for riders who are cognitively impaired and prone to stress and anxiety. But with the right measures in place, drivers can assist as needed and show empathy.
Canes, walkers, wheelchairs, and scooters—riders with physical impairments use a variety of mobility devices to get around. That’s why vehicles need a lift and/or ramp for these passengers to board and reach a secure location.
It’s not just getting on and off but also accommodations for the duration of each ride. Some riders may need driver assistance getting situated. And public transportation also needs adequate maneuvering space, accessible handrails, and stop controls.
Riders with a Fear of Asking for Help
Asking for help is hard to do, no matter your circumstances. We all want to be self-sufficient. But riders with disabilities may find themselves in need of added support, and it can be a very uncomfortable experience in public. These individuals don't want to ask someone they don’t know for help or feel like a burden, so the thought of leaving home and venturing out into the world can be scary.
To make matters more complicated, nondisabled riders might want to help but don’t want to offend someone with a disability by making assumptions. With so much discomfort, many avoid going out altogether. But why should they? They have every right to interact with the world.
Luckily, the right training and tools make a difference. For instance, Ecolane Evolution helps to create service areas with ADA booking guidelines to accommodate paratransit. Additionally, eligibility tools help to grant and monitor individual paratransit eligibility, plus passenger needs can be saved to share with drivers.
The Value of an Accessible-Friendly App
Want a pizza? Order from the Domino’s app. In the mood for music? Open Spotify. Need a ride? There should be a public transit app to help riders easily manage their trip needs.
Accessibility in public transportation extends to tech tools because an app can accommodate for visual, mental, and physical impairments and help riders take more control of their journeys.
Provides Navigational Tools for Riders
A tool to help you get to your destination in the palm of your hand? Transportation apps display everything riders need, from arrival times or the number of minutes before ride arrival to directions to get to destinations.
What’s important is for riders with disabilities to be able to use app software with a comparable level of effort and a similar amount of time, with similar functionality between the web and mobile apps. And you need to take several factors and features into account, such as:
- Trip planning, including making booking, monitoring, and paying accessible via assistive technologies
- Text-based alternatives to graphical information, such as maps and alt text
- Logical order of operations for screen reader compatibility
- Integrations with interactive voice response, such as Alexa, to support mental and physical disabilities
X4MaaS by Ecolane is the ultimate multimodal trip planner app, enabling riders of all abilities to book, pay for rides, and track their journeys. Bonus points: Agency-side features help you deliver equitable and ADA-compliant transportation!
Ensures Accessibility Compliance
You know that accessibility in public transportation isn’t just nice to have—it’s a necessity. Compliance for public transportation technology is guided by a selection of core standards:
- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1, the standard for web content, ensures that transportation apps are perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust for users of all abilities.
- Section 508 aims to ensure electronic and information technology is accessible to people with disabilities with a similar level of effort compared to those without disabilities.
- Voluntary Product Accessibility Template, while optional, provides documented product conformance with both WCAG 2.1 and Section 508.
By implementing an accessible app, your agency is pledging to a diversity of ridership to meet their needs.
Want to do your part toward improving accessibility in public transportation? Reach out to discuss how Ecolane serves paratransit riders!
About the Author
Read Ecolane's blog articles for perspective, opinion and information on transit and paratransit issues.