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Transportation and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA): Q&A

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of people with disabilities to:

  • Access walkways (wheelchair accessible, etc.)
  • Use restaurant facilities
  • Enjoy the same level of access as people without disabilities

This also includes equal access to transportation. Below are answers to the most asked questions about transportation and the ADA.

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)?

The ADA is a federal civil rights law that establishes nondiscrimination provisions to ensure equal access and opportunities for people with disabilities.

Title I addresses equal employment opportunities for people with disabilities. You must file Title I complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Title II of the ADA applies to state and local government services. This includes transportation systems. It requires public entities such as transit agencies to provide accessible transportation services. It also requires public entities to make reasonable modifications to policies and procedures.

Title III of the ADA covers places of public accommodations. Title III requires that private entities or commercial facilities remove barriers to accessibility. This ensures that transportation providers offer equal access to the public.

Title IV addresses telecommunications and requires telephone companies to provide telecommunications relay services. These services are for people with hearing loss or speech disabilities.

In 2008, the ADA Amendments Act went into law. These amendments broadened the definition of "disability." They provide a more inclusive scope to cover a vast range of impairments.

What does the Americans with Disabilities Act protect? How does it relate to transportation?

The ADA provides civil rights protections to people with disabilities. Among other rights, the ADA ensures that people are not excluded from transportation on the basis of disability. There cannot be limits on accessibility to transportation for people with disabilities.

Does the ADA have any requirements for public transportation?

The ADA's transportation provisions benefit the general public. These provisions ensure that transportation services have reasonable accommodations for everyone.

ADA Title II applies to public transportation services. Such as public city buses and rail transit systems, such as:

  • Amtrak
  • Commuter rails
  • Subway systems

Public transportation agencies may not discriminate against people with disabilities. They must also abide by several other ADA requirements, such as:

  • Providing disability access in new vehicles
  • Attempting to buy used buses with disability access
  • Make proper repairs to buses so they're accessible

Also, the ADA requires public transportation agencies to provide paratransit services. This transportation service picks up and drops off people with physical or mental impairments who cannot use public transportation to reach their destinations.

The paratransit service must be comparable to the city's fixed bus system on routes and availability. But, if a paratransit service burdens the local government's resources, the government may have the option to stop the service. In most cases, the local government's burden isn't strong enough to stop paratransit service.

Are there any ADA requirements for private transportation?

The ADA's Title III provision requires private transportation businesses to provide accessible vehicles for people with disabilities. Private transportation services include airport shuttles, hotel shuttles, private buses, and taxis. Also, Title III requires these services to provide accessible facilities, such as private bus stops and depots.

Are there any ADA requirements for air transportation?

The ADA doesn't regulate air travel discrimination. Yet, the Air Carrier Access Act does.

The Air Carrier Access Act prevents domestic and foreign passenger airlines from discriminating against people with mental or physical disabilities.

The act only covers passenger airlines that are open to the public. For example, Southwest must provide wheelchair access on its planes. But FedEx, a shipping company, doesn't have to do so on its planes.

What is the Rehabilitation Act of 1973?

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in programs and activities receiving federal funding. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act addresses nondiscrimination in federally funded programs and services — including transportation.

Which federal agencies are responsible for enforcing the ADA on transportation?

  • The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)
  • The Federal Transit Administration (FTA)

The Office of Civil Rights within these agencies helps ensure compliance and provides technical assistance.

What are some of the ADA's specific requirements for public transit vehicles?

In complying with the ADA's requirements, the U.S. Department of Transportation guidelines for accessibility on public transit vehicles. Some necessary vehicle regulations in assisting Americans with disabilities are:

  • Platform barriers to prevent wheelchairs from rolling off
  • Strong and large handrails
  • Vehicle ramps or bridge plates
  • Lift equipment to load wheelchairs
  • Priority seating for people with disabilities
  • Proper and clear doorways and pathways in subways
  • Adequate lighting on ramps and doorways

Do sidewalks have to follow the ADA?

Many people with disabilities use wheelchairs or walking aids. In compliance with the ADA, the U.S. Department of Transportation has issued regulations for sidewalks and crosswalks. Some significant regulations include:

  • Wide sidewalks
  • Ramps leading into crosswalks
  • Pedestrian control signals low enough to be accessible by wheelchair users
  • Increased crossing times to accommodate people with disabilities
  • Driveway crossings designed to accommodate the movements of people with disabilities

How does Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 interact with transportation services?

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.

Title VI ensures that public transit agencies and state transportation departments do not discriminate against people.

How can I file a complaint if I encounter discrimination in transportation services?

You can file a complaint with the relevant federal agency overseeing transportation. You can also file a complaint with civil rights enforcement, such as the U.S. Department of Justice or U.S. DOT.

Get Legal Advice for Your Disability Discrimination Claim

Have you experienced difficulty getting around on public transit? The ADA requires that people with disabilities have the same access to transportation as everyone else. If you have a disability and experience denial of access to any mode of transportation, contact an attorney. You should talk to a civil rights attorney about filing an ADA claim if you experience a violation.

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