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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Accessible Mass Transit

Why Is Access to Mass Transit Important for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired?

Public transportation is a major key to independence, productivity, and community participation for people who are blind or severely visually impaired--most of whom are not able to drive a motor vehicle because of their visual impairment. Mass transit services such as buses, trains, or special paratransit vans are frequently the only options blind or visually impaired people have for traveling independently to school, work, health care facilities, shopping centers, and a host of other places in the community.

What Do People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired Need to Access and Use Mass Transit?

People who are blind or visually impaired need to gather information about their physical surroundings and about the visible information that appears at transit stops, terminals, on transit vehicles, schedules, maps, and directories in order to use mass transit safely and effectively. Because of the visual nature of most transit information, people who are blind, severely visually impaired, or who have poor sight cannot use readily the wealth of information provided in mass transit environments for general information, wayfinding, and safety. For people who are blind or visually impaired, this visible information can be a barrier to using mass transit--a barrier that can be addressed by providing information in ways that blind or visually impaired people can use.

What Kinds of Transit Information Present Barriers to People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired?

  • Route, timetable, fare, and customer service brochures available only in print formats.

  • Print or graphic messages on signs, monitors, or maps displayed in transit terminals, on transit vehicles, and inside transit vehicles.

  • Bus stop locations that are not clearly marked, and bus stops whose placement varies within a transit system, that is, some bus stops are placed just before the corner, some are mid-block, and others are just beyond the corner.

  • Ticket vending machines that have only visible or touch screen operation controls.

  • Safety or hazard signs and warnings that are only visibly displayed.

What Is Being Done to Improve Transit Accessibility for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired?

In 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law. This broad civil rights act bans discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, transportation, public services, public accommodations, and telecommunications in the public and private sectors. The U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Justice have issued regulations implementing the ADA's requirements for public and private transportation vehicles, facilities, and services. The ADA transit regulations are complex, addressing a wide range of areas including the design of transportation vehicles and facilities, paratransit services, training of transit staff, compliance requirements and timeframes, and a host of broad reaching issues.

It is important to note that transit agencies have unique obligations under the ADA as well as concurrent obligations under state and local statutes and codes. Transit agencies are advised to consult legal counsel for meeting Federal, state, and local requirements. The information contained in this fact sheet is not intended to address in whole or in part the obligations of transit agencies with regard to the ADA and other Federal, state, and local requirements. The Department of Transportation regulations for publicly operated mass transit are found in the Code of Federal Regulations (49 CFR Parts 27, 37, 38).

In general terms, the ADA requires transportation systems to remove barriers to mass transit for persons who are blind or visually impaired, primarily by making visible information accessible and usable. The following list illustrates some of the ways that transit systems have begun to do so:

  • Providing large-print, high-contrast, and non-glare informational signs in terminals, at bus stops, and on transit vehicles.

  • Placing braille and tactile information regarding available service at consistent locations near the entrances to and within transit stations.

  • Installing a tactile domed high-contrast warning surface along platform edges.

  • Making stop announcements inside transit vehicles at main points along a bus or train route.

  • Providing external speakers that announce vehicle identification information.

  • Providing ticket vending machines with braille and large-print markings, or audible output devices.

  • Training transit personnel to meet the specific needs of persons with visual impairments who use public transportation.

What Does Innovation and Technology Hold in Store for Transit Accessibility?

In the years since the passage of the ADA, rapidly evolving technology has led to innovations that promise to enhance transit accessibility for people who are blind or visually impaired. Computer screen interfaces can read aloud information displayed on video screen monitors. Ticket machines on the NY City subway and Long Island Rail Road include speech output. Information kiosks with tactile maps can "talk" to those who seek information about the location of key places in transit stations.

Multimedia interactive software allows users to query a map to plan routes, and global positioning system (GPS) technology enables people to use a personal digital assistant or cell phone to monitor their progress as they travel from place to place. This same GPS technology can be used to drive automatic digitized stop announcements and can be linked to external bus speakers that will announce vehicle identification information to those waiting at vehicle stops. And, infrared signals and radio transmitters can be programmed to broadcast the visual messages displayed on print signs so signs can then be "heard" by people who use special voice output receivers.

Resources

Easter Seals Project ACTION
1425 K Street NW, Suite 200
Washington, DC 20005
Telephone: 800-659-6428
E-mail: info@easterseals.com
Web site: http://www.projectaction.org

US Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board
The Access Board
1331 F Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20004-1111
Telephone: 800-872-2253; 202-272-5434
E-mail: info@access.gov
Web site: http://www.access-board.gov

Transportation Research Information Services (TRIS)
National Research Council
2101 Constitution Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20418
Telephone: 202-334-3250
Web site: http://www.nas.edu/trb

TRACE Research and Development Center
S-151 Waisman Center
1500 Highland Avenue
Madison, WI 53705-2280
Telephone: 608-263-2309 (voice)
E-mail: info@trace.wisc.edu
Web site: http://trace.wisc.edu

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