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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

A Call for Active Advocacy: Transportation and the Roots of Our Civil Rights

By Clifton Perez, M.S.W., Chair of the NCIL Subcommittee on Transportation, Systems Advocate at the ILC of the Hudson Valley

Let’s be real! Do you believe that our transportation difficulties have been resolved because we achieved passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act? Granted, most of our fixed-route buses are wheelchair accessible and many of them provide printed information about stops, combined with auditory announcements. However, that is a very small part of transportation accessibility.

If you are a wheelchair user, have you recently tried to get on an over-the-road bus (such as Greyhound, Trailways, etc.)? If so, how did that work for you? Even if you were lucky enough to actually get yourself aboard, how were you treated? Were you able to go to one of these bus companies, just like anyone else would, and simply buy a ticket and board?

Although we have made tremendous accessibility advancements in public transportation, they comprise only a small part of the overall transportation system. The private transportation system is even more inadequate than the public transportation system to meet the needs of people with disabilities, not to mention the continued inadequacy of trains, ships, airplanes, and the list goes on and on. 

According to a 2007 Report by the New York City Council and disability advocates entitled “A Roadmap to Improving Transportation for New York City’s Disabled population”, 1.5 billion people rode the New York City subway system and 741 million took a bus in 2006. This is a transportation system that operates 24 hours / day with the largest subway fleet in the world and the largest bus fleet in North America. New York City’s public transportation system serves as a social and occupational lifeline for millions of people. Yet for the more than one million New Yorkers with disabilities, this city’s network of public transportation services is still woefully inadequate.

Again, this is just public transportation – and a small part of it at that. Can you imagine what it must be like in many other parts of the country, especially rural areas?

Our own struggle for civil rights and independence took its cue from transportation advocacy. Remember Rosa Parks? Remember ADAPT? Although much has been accomplished toward enhancing access and advancing civil rights for people with disabilities, access to the same lousy programs, services, and activities available to everyone else (including transportation) is far from equal.

Are you ok with that?

If you accept the fact that we still are far from having the same access to civil rights as the rest of society; if you understand that the accessibility advancements enjoyed today were derived from active advocacy; and if you acknowledge that this active advocacy has its origins in transportation, then the only plausible conclusion is that in order to assure continued access, we must once again engage in active transportation advocacy!

We must not lose sight of the BIG PICTURE. Reaching our goal will require concentrated active advocacy, and there is no better place to start than the transportation system as a whole. Particular attention must be paid to the private transportation system because it is so far behind the existing inadequacy of the public transportation system.

Get the picture?


  1. Janet Catherine White says

    I still struggle in my own mind, why people with any disability that prevents them from driving, doesn’t receive the extra money awarded to those who are blind. Because most of us don’t get to anywhere to speak of. Public Buses requires 48 hours prior notice. We can go to the Physician or Hospital. We can go shopping to spend money we don’t have. We can go any where else that is on the fixed route. Have you ever heard of such freedom.
    It’s this that keeps a lot of us from thinking about the larger aspects of transportation.. If we know we can’t afford to ever imagine using the broader aspects of travel. Travel is only something we dream about.

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