Monday, August 29, 2011

Offering Youth with Disabilities a New Beginning to Transportation

Contributed by Julia Kim

In October 2009, we convened the Youth with Disabilities Transportation Roundtable in Savannah, Georgia as part of a pre-conference at the 15th International Division on Career Development and Transition Annual Conference.  The 2-day roundtable brought together youth with disabilities, parents, educators, researchers, and professionals within the transportation and disability communities together to develop an action plan that would address identified barriers to transportation for youth with disabilities. Marvin Brown, a guest speaker and former director of WVSA arts connection, concluded his presentation with the words, “The Beginning,” and his pronouncement that “This is not the end, but the beginning.” It was and is a simple yet perfect way to describe the roundtable’s goal – the beginning. The beginning to future conversations about transportation. The beginning to making transportation solutions a reality.  The exchange of ideas resulted in the creation or the beginning of a new initiative at Easter Seals Project ACTION – Enhancing Youth Mobility – with the goal of improving access to transportation for youth with disabilities, specifically youth in transition. 

Easter Seals Project ACTION shared this message at the Transportation Choices for Individuals with Autism Conference sponsored by the University Transportation Research Center 2 and hosted by Rutgers University’s Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation. The conference focused on the needs of individuals with autism when using transportation. Teaching individuals with autism the skills to navigate transportation, and incorporating technologies, and services within existing systems and life skills programming can expand transportation options available to individuals with autism. Autism is a developmental disorder that impacts the development of social and communication skills and stereotyped or patterned behavior. The fixed schedules and routes of trains or subways have a set pattern to which some individuals with autism are attracted. Researchers are hoping to utilize this pattern to teach life skills to individuals with autism.  One such program – Subway Sleuths – is being offered by the New York Transit Museum to children with autism between 9-10 years old. The program teaches children about trains and transit, but also connects children with each other to enhance their social and communication skills. New York Transit Museum plans to expand this successful and popular program this fall.

Transportation is vitally important for people of all abilities to get to work, school, home, appointments, errands, socialize with friends and family, and travel to destinations. For youth with disabilities, access to transportation is the beginning to a future that becomes easier to realize, bringing with it opportunities and independence. With continued creativity and innovation in teaching youth with disabilities at an early age about transportation, a new future and beginning awaits them.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Accessible Transportation in Lee County, South Carolina Grows through Coalition Building

Contributed by Krystian Boreyko

Project ACTION recently traveled to Lee County in South Carolina where the sun was hot, the hospitality was unbeatable, and the desire to create accessible transportation solutions in a rural area was pervasive. ESPA was in Lee County for the most recent installment of the Accessible Transportation Coalitions Initiative(ATCI) technical assistance event which involves bringing the disability community and transportation providers together at the local level to determine how they can work together to increase accessible transportation.

Aside from private automobile ownership, very few transportation options exist in Lee County. However, the county has older adults and individuals with disabilities who need better access to jobs, medical appointments, and social events. The coalition assembled for the event was born out of a local Transit Taskforce, which originated as a Quality of Life Committee. The evolution of the group speaks to its vision of public transportation as a means of enhancing access for all residents while strengthening economic development and helping the environment.

Members of the 2011 ATCI Team Lee County, S.C.
Donna Smith and Krystian Boreyko, ESPA’s representatives facilitating the ATCI session, were inspired by the strength the coalition displayed both in its size and the creative ideas of its members. The 38-member team – led by Bettye Scott, O.J. Papucci, and Ann August with Elijah Dinkins providing logistical support – represented a range of community interests, including the Lee County Council, the Bishopville City Council, the Santee Wateree Regional Transit Authority, the Santee-Lynches Regional Council of Governments and several transit advocates representing people with disabilities and older adults. The two-day event involved discussions on creative solutions for funding public transportation and ways of changing perceptions of public transit in a region where it has not existed before. Coalition members view transportation as more than just a means of getting from Point A to Point B. They see its potential to
  • Bring community members together,
  • Help residents with mobility limitations to live more independently,
  • Increase job opportunities in the County, and
  • Generally turn a rural area into a more livable community where one does not have to be solely dependent upon an automobile to get around.
Project ACTION celebrates the Lee County ATCI Team’s commitment to developing a public transit system with accessibility integrated into its design, and we look forward to the ribbon cutting ceremony for the first bus route!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Proposed Rights-of-Way Guidelines Offer Opportunities for Communities

Contributed by Marie Maus and Ken Thompson

Recently, on the 21st anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the U.S. Access Board released new Rights-of-Way Guidelines for public comment. Many years in the making, once finalized and implemented as standards, the guidelines will apply to newly constructed or altered portions of public rights-of-way cover by the ADA. The guidelines cover pedestrian access to sidewalks and streets, including crosswalks, curb ramps, street furnishings, pedestrian signals, parking, and other components of public rights-of-way. The new guidelines will help make the pedestrian circulation route more accessible and usable to everyone in areas of new construction. Also, the guidelines will apply to public rights-of-way built or altered with funding from the Federal government under the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) and the Rehabilitation Act. The Rights-of-Way Guidelines complement, and in some areas, reference the Board’s ADA and ABA Accessibility Guidelines for buildings and facilities. Two public hearings on the guidelines are scheduled during the 120-day comment period: September 12 in Dallas and November 9 in Washington, D.C.

The completion of these guidelines is very exciting! The draft guidelines can be helpful as a practical guide for improving accessibility of the pedestrian rights of way in areas not covered by the present ADAAG. Existing pedestrian networks not undergoing alteration, however, will not have to meet these requirements. That being the way, continued action is needed. Those of us concerned about accessible pathways and livable communities must continue our efforts to work with and encourage local communities to modify currently inaccessible pathways to make them accessible to and usable by people of all abilities, such as students with disabilities making their way to the school-bus stop, older adults walking to the neighborhood grocery store, parents pushing their children in strollers to a subway station for a trip to the zoo, or a veteran using a wheelchair to get to a bus stop to go to a new job. In this climate of fiscal restraint, it is important to keep the need for investment in accessible, livable communities in front of decision-makers so that all citizens are able to support their own health and well-being as well as contribute to that of their communities.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Strengthening Communities with Transportation

Contributed by NiKette Banks and Rachel Beyerle

The Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO) 40th National Meeting and Training Conference held July 16-19 in Philadelphia was informative and exciting. The conference theme was “Are We There Yet?” in regard to the transportation industry and how it has evolved over time.  During the educational sessions and workshops, we learned and shared about the great progress in transportation as well as how much further we need to go to get THERE. 

For COMTO part of getting THERE is welcoming the many diverse contributions, accomplishments and advocacy efforts from not only their stakeholders and members but from all leaders and professionals in the transportation industry. The transportation industry is on target to meet this goal.  The industry is taking action and moving in the right direction with optimism and great determination to make a difference and to get outcomes.  For example, we talk about being able to pass the torch and getting the next generation of leaders prepared to work and lead in the transportation industry.  COMTO has placed great value and resources into working with youth.  They have an internship and scholarship program structured to provide students from different backgrounds, cultures and with different interests from various high schools and universities across the country with the necessary/required tools, support and mentorships to get to that next level.  In addition, COMTO has been an advocate for Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs) and at the forefront for working with organizations to provide opportunities and participation for DBEs.  As a first time attendees of COMTO, the experience was positive, and there was a true sense of community among participants.

COMTO’s focus on the importance of community extends beyond the organization itself and was reflected in a number of conference breakout sessions.  For example, the session Livability Approaches to Transportation Action Priorities in the District of Columbia featured a ward-level livability study currently underway in Far Northeast D.C.  Residents and commuters are invited to participate in public workshops, identify priorities for traffic and pedestrian improvements.  The study's website includes an interactive map where the public can pinpoint comments to specific intersections, roads and parks.  Taking community inclusion a step further, Denver’s Regional Transportation District discussed its first-of-its-kind Workforce Initiative Now (WIN) program whereby members of the local workforce, including military veterans, are given practical training and placed into career positions tied to regional transportation projects.  

Historically, many transportation decisions have been made FOR a community. These two programs are examples of how transportation decisions are being made WITH a community in mind…and with a spirit of inclusion that is part of COMTO’s core values.