By Whitney E. Gray
Over the past 25 years, Easter Seals Project ACTION has worked to make accessible community transportation a reality for all. ESPA’s third director, Dr. Rosalyn Simon, was one of the many champions who pushed for the empowerment of people with disabilities through inclusion in public transportation. From 1992 to 1996, Simon guided ESPA’s activities at a pivotal time when the Americans with Disabilities Act was still new yet dramatically opening up public transportation access to people with disabilities. As Simon stated, “Everybody in transit was surprised that the numbers were growing. I don’t think anybody was prepared for the cost and the demand” (The Road More Traveled, 2008).
After leading ESPA’s service to communities across the country, Simon worked at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to help make the system more accessible. After she passed away in 2011, WMATA dedicated its Transit Accessibility Center in honor of her and presented the first Dr. Rosalyn Simon Award to Simon’s daughter, Monica Simon. The award is presented each year “to an industry professional or organization serving the disability community” (Event program). At the Center’s dedication in 2011, Christian T. Kent, WMATA’s assistant general manager for access services, stated, “Dr. Simon was a friend, mentor, and an inspiration to many in the field of transportation, and her renowned expertise enabled the transportation industry to provide safe, accessible, and quality transportation to people with disabilities” (WMATA Press Release, 2011).
This year at the Second Annual Accessibility Excellence Awards, held October 8th in Washington, D.C., WMATA chose ESPA to receive the Dr. Rosalyn Simon Award. Monica Simon presented the award to Mary A. Leary, PhD, vice president of the Easter Seals Transportation Group, and Randall Rutta, chief strategy officer at Easter Seals. Upon formally accepting the award, Rutta spoke about Simon’s impact on the field of accessible transportation, and Easter Seals commitment to continuing to support increases in accessible transportation both through ESPA and Easter Seals’ advocacy efforts. In addition, Leary acknowledged the work of Michael A. Winter, who passed away this summer, and his efforts to achieve equal rights for people with disabilities, including in access to transit. Winter was awarded the Richard W. Heddinger award, which is presented each year to an advocate and member of the disability community who has significantly helped increase WMATA’s accessibility, and his family accepted on his behalf.
ESPA was honored to receive the Dr. Rosalyn Simon Award and would like to thank and acknowledge those across the country working to further accessible transportation. Countless community leaders, disability advocates, and transit professionals have greatly increased accessible transportation options in their local areas since the passage of ADA. ESPA looks forward to continued support of and partnership with communities as they to push ahead and become fully-inclusive for all regardless of ability.