All Aboard an Opportunity to Make America’s Railways More Accessible

Amtrak Train

Photo by Drew Jacksich

On the brink of the 23rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), we celebrate the work of advocates like you who have made progress in your communities on so many issues. While train stations and platforms are more accessible, there is still a lot of work to be done.  The problem isn’t your enthusiasm, or tenacity, or will – the problem is Amtrak and our antiquated rail system.  Amtrak was given 20 years to comply with ADA regulations, and they have yet to reach their promise of reaching full accessibility standards.  So The National Disability Rights Network and the nationwide network of Protection and Advocacy agencies for people with disabilities is going to be holding a week of action on Amtrak, and we need your help!

As we approach this historic anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, many Protection and Advocacy agencies and other advocates for people with disabilities will be visiting Amtrak and commuter rail stations across the country to record and report as many accessibility problems as we can.  We need you to start to help us during the week of July 21-27, the week of the 23rd anniversary of the ADA.  Please take some time during this week to visit a local train station.  While there, please take pictures, and fill out the survey to help NDRN determine whether the train station is accessible to people with disabilities. All findings can then be emailed to: trainweek@ndrn.org.

Turbulence for People with Disabilities – What The Arc is Doing to Make Air Travel More Accessible to People with Disabilities

Cameron and Nancy

Cameron is on the autism spectrum and was completely non-verbal until a Wings for Autism event at Logan Airport where he said “airplane” while sitting on the plane. That was the first word that he had ever spoken at 5 years old. His mother Nancy reassured him with “yes Cameron, you are on an airplane.” Nancy says: “It is a moment I will never forget and I will always be grateful to the Wings for Autism program for that.”

Recent headlines about people with disabilities facing difficulties while traveling are troubling – just this week, the Vanderhorst family from Bakersfield, CA was not allowed to board an American Airlines flight home from visiting family on the East Coast, after they claim a pilot discriminated against their son Bede, who has Down syndrome. Stories like this one demonstrate the need for the airline industry to work with families to learn what to expect when people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) travel.

One chapter of The Arc, The Charles River Center in Massachusetts, is leading the way in this type of education.  Working with Massachusetts Port Authority, JetBlue, and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), The Charles River Center has created a new program called Wings for Autism.

Parents of children on the autism spectrum have a lot to take into consideration before making travel arrangements, from how their loved one will respond to the lights at the airport, their comfort level with airport security talking to or touching them, and how the noise on the plane will affect their child.

Wings for Autism sets up simulations of airport travel and security at airports across the country, giving families and airport and airline personnel an opportunity to do a test run for air travel.

At a recent simulation at Logan Airport in Boston, volunteers from JetBlue including flight attendants and pilots, staff from United Airlines, TSA officials, and ticket counter agents practiced the routine of air travel to prepare parents and children for what to expect when traveling.  The simulation required families to clear security, board the plane, fasten their seatbelts, and prepare for take-off.   For children who had issues with the various steps of the simulation, behavioral specialists were on hand to help parents and children work through the exercise.

While the program’s primary goal is to help children and parents, there is also an orientation process for TSA and airline staff.  This is the kind of education that appears to be desperately needed across airlines.  And The Arc is looking to expand this program, so that more families and airline and airport personnel can make flying a little smoother.