Guest Blogger Jessica Podesva is a 3rd. year law student at New England Law Boston. She is presently the ADA Transportation Advocacy Intern, clerking with the Honorable Patrick J. King (ret.) on the enforcement of the ground breaking transportation access lawsuit, Daniels-Finegold, et al. v. MBTA. Prior to working with Judge King. Ms. Podesva was a law clerk in the Elder, Health, and Disability Unit at Greater Boston Legal Services, a unit that provides legal advocacy to adults and children with disabilities, who have been wrongfully denied Social Security disability benefits and health insurance.
This week marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This landmark piece of civil rights legislation has set the standard for a more inclusive nation that welcomes access and participation by everyone. One vital aspect of this inclusion is access to public transportation for all individuals.
According to U.S. Census data, approximately 1 in 5 Americans are currently living with a disability- a physical or mental impairment that significantly impacts daily life. The likelihood of a disability also increases with age. U.S. Census data also indicates that approximately 40% of all individuals aged 65 or older have one or more disabilities. This issue is particularly important because throughout the United States, 10,000 people turn 65 every day. For elders, access to public transportation is a vital component to remaining independent and active within the community and to preventing isolation, which in turn helps prevent morbidity.
In the spirit of the ADA’s 25th anniversary, we have made great efforts and have seen significant improvement in relation to accessibility of Boston’s public transportation system. In 2006, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) entered into a landmark settlement agreement with Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS), on behalf of Boston Center for Independent Living (BCIL), and eleven individuals with disabilities. Since the signing of the settlement agreement the MBTA, GBLS, BCIL, and the individual plaintiffs have worked collaboratively toward the goal of making the “T” accessible for everyone. A decade plus work on transportation access resulted in meaningful changes within the MBTA, such as:
- Creation of Department of System Wide Accessibility (SWA), whose department head reports directly to the General Manager;
- Implementation of new elevator maintenance contract and dramatically improved reliability;
Development of review processes to ensure accessibility features are considered and are universal design principals are incorporated in all design and construction projects;
- Creation of Internal Access Monitoring Program;
- Creation of System Orientation classes for customers;
- Improved communication/relationship with disability community
While these changes have resulted in significant improvements, there is still a lot more work to be done to create a 100% accessible transportation system. Recently, the MBTA has made public a list of 85 initiatives that the MBTA is committed to completing within the next one to three years. (These initiatives can be found on the MBTA’s website.) For more information on access to public transportation please follow the MBTA on Twitter: @MBTA #TAccess.