SACRAMENTO, Calif., April 15, 2013 — Elevators on subways stop working, bus stops aren’t announced and pathways or sidewalks are inaccessible. Every day, these types of problems create major issues for people living with disabilities when simply trying to get from one place to another. A U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics study found that 6 million people living with disabilities had difficulties accessing needed transportation. Concerns about accessible transportation have led many Independent Living Centers (ILCs) in California to increase their advocacy efforts to create long-term transportation systems change.
“Accessibility to transportation continues to be a significant issue for people living with disabilities,” said Executive Director of the California State Independent Living Council (SILC) Liz Pazdral. “In addition to providing education and training on transportation options, ILCs throughout California are focusing on creating meaningful transportation systems change within their areas.”
Dina Garcia and Cynde Soto, Systems Change Advocates for Communities Actively Living Independent & Free (CALIF), are leading the effort to create positive policy change for people living with disabilities in the Los Angeles area. With multiple transportation options available, including paratransit covering the entire service area, light rail, subway and fixed-route bus systems, Garcia and Soto believe things are getting better. But there is much more ground to cover in meeting one aspect of the Americans with Disabilities Act, “equal opportunity for public transportation.”
“Advocacy and leadership development are critical if things are going to change,” said Soto. “This is why we continually educate CALIF consumers and those we interact with on committees and commissions on the real challenges surrounding transportation for those living with disabilities.”
Within the last year, CALIF has served 461 consumers. The ILC educates and trains individuals on various transportation alternatives and how to access them as well as on the application and recertification process to use paratransit services.
“The trainings are often our first point of contact in creating stronger awareness and developing engaged advocates,” said Garcia. “Many of our consumers attend a 10-week leadership advocacy course to become certified advocates and part of the disability rights legacy. By organizing our consumers, they are prepared to attend public hearings and provide testimony relative to creating changes in the transportation systems.”
Both Garcia and Soto sit on various transportation councils to ensure the voice of people living with disabilities is very present. Soto is a member of the Metro Gateway Cities Service Council, which oversees planning and implementation of service within its area. Garcia served two years on the City of Los Angeles Commission on Disability and currently sits on the San Fernando Valley Service Council. Through their combined work, Garcia and Soto ensure the implementation of programs and services specifically designed to meet the needs of people living with disabilities, for example, the installation of audio signals to improve safety for visually-impaired individuals. And, equally as important, they are “at the table raising concerns and safety issues as well as educating council members on a real-time basis.”
For the Resources for Independence, Central Valley (RICV), which covers Fresno, Merced, Madera, Kings and Tulare counties, transportation obstacles for people living with disabilities are similar but also differ due to the rural nature of the area. For example, urban areas have more route options and shorter wait time for buses. People living with disabilities can be without transportation options if they are located beyond a three-quarter mile service area for paratransit. In Fresno, there are some urban areas not served by paratransit at all. When considering that 88,393 people in Merced used paratransit services in 2012, this signals a significant issue.
“In the Central Valley, one of the biggest barriers for people with disabilities is the lack of service in rural areas between our major cities,” said Joanna Zamora, MSW, RICV Community Organizer.
“RICV and consumer advocates are working with transit managers to address a number of concerns,” explained Zamora. “RICV has an executive staff member who recently led the local Disability Advocacy Commission, which has been successful in making recommendations to the local transit agency, Fresno Area Express, on needed improvements.”
Like CALIF, RICV organizes individuals living with disabilities to become active advocates. RICV’s Disability Advocacy Teams (DATs) partner with transit managers to create awareness and changes in the transportation systems. For example, in Merced, the transit manager is partnering with DATs to organize a public forum, and in Visalia, the transit manager works closely with DATs to jointly attend meetings.
The California State Independent Living Council is an independent state agency which, in cooperation with the California State Department of Rehabilitation, prepares and monitors the State Plan for Independent Living.