WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 19, 2020)—The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) applauds Representative Jim Langevin, along with co-sponsors Representative Dina Titus and Representative John Katko, for their introduction of the Disability Access to Transportation Act, which would expand and improve transportation, especially paratransit programs, for people with disabilities.

One of the most significant barriers to employment for Americans who are blind or low vision is a profound lack of affordable, efficient transportation options. At present, over half of working-aged blind and low vision Americans are not in the labor market, compared to only a quarter of Americans without disabilities. These individuals consistently identify transportation as the largest barrier to obtaining employment, accepting jobs that are offered to them, or remaining employed once they are hired.

Stacy Cervenka, AFB Director of Public Policy, worked closely with Congressman Langevin’s staff to provide information and feedback on one of the bill’s major provisions: the establishment of a one-stop paratransit pilot program.

Currently, almost no paratransit agency in the U.S. allows riders to make a stop on the way to a final destination. Paratransit agencies are not federally required to schedule rides less than 90 minutes apart. This has an enormous negative effect on the ability of blind and low vision parents to enter and remain in the workforce, especially those who are parents needing to drop off or pick up a child from daycare or school. Under this pilot program, a rider would be allowed one stop for purposes including childcare or educational facilities, pharmacies, grocery stores, or banks/ATMs.

“One significant barrier to employment for many parents who are blind is the inability to drop children off at school or at childcare and then continue on to work,” Cervenka said. “Most paratransit agencies require riders to take separate trips for each location, which means a wait of up to 90 minutes in between stops - impossible for parents who need to be at work on time. This bill is an important step toward eliminating one of the biggest barriers to employment for all blind and low vision people.”

Other components in the new proposed legislation would include:

Reporting accessibility complaints. In cases where an individual with a disability using public transportation believes they were subjected to discrimination on the basis of their disability, the person would have accessible options to file a complaint with the Department of Transportation. Options to file complaints would include phone, mail-in form, or online through the Office of Civil Rights of the Federal Transit Administration website. Additionally, the Secretary of Transportation would be required to report on the complaints and how they are handled.
Implementing guidelines for pedestrian infrastructure. This bill would require the Department of Transportation to adopt the proposed Accessibility Guidelines for Pedestrian Facilities in the Public Right-of-Way, published in 2011, which would provide requirements for the development of accessible pedestrian infrastructure.
Establishing a connectivity data pilot program. Acquiring data sets would allow states, metropolitan areas, and rural areas to better incorporate the needs of their constituencies in transportation planning related to their specific geographic region. Data collection would include the nature of travelers’ destinations, e.g. jobs, healthcare facilities, grocery stores, etc.; where people who have unmet transportation needs live, such as low-income populations, minority populations, age brackets (including and especially senior citizens), people with disabilities; and more.

AFB wholeheartedly supports this legislation. We are strongly committed to addressing the substantial challenges that blind and low visions Americans face by specifically improving our nation’s paratransit provider services, and we thank Congressman Langevin, along with co-sponsors Representatives Dina Titus and John Katko, for introducing this bill.

By the numbers

In a recent study of highly educated legally blind adults that was published in the Journal of Rehabilitation (1), blindness rehabilitation experts Arielle Silverman, Edward Bell, and Mary Ann Mendez found that:
• Of the full 559 respondents, 79% said that transportation challenges had a negative impact on their employment at some point in their lives. This was the highest-ranked barrier to employment.
• Of the 210 respondents who said they were currently looking for jobs, 30% said they had to turn down a job opportunity (either not apply or turn down an offer) in the last 3 months because they did not have reliable transportation to get to the job.
• Of the 84 respondents who are unemployed and no longer looking for work, 33% cited lack of transportation as a reason for no longer attempting to enter or remain in the workforce.

For further information:

Read Rep. Jim Langevin press release

AFB Is Working to Strengthen Paratransit Services: But We Need Your Help!

About the American Foundation for the Blind
Founded in 1921, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) is a national nonprofit that creates a world of no limits for people who are blind or visually impaired. AFB mobilizes leaders, advances understanding, and champions impactful policies and practices using research and data. AFB is proud to steward the Helen Keller Archive, maintain and expand the digital collection, and honor the more than 40 years that Helen Keller worked tirelessly with AFB. Visit: www.afb.org

(1) Silverman, A. M., Bell, E. C., & Mendez, M. A. (2019). Understanding the employment experiences of Americans who are legally blind. Journal of Rehabilitation, 85:1, 44-52.