USDOT Hosts Summit on Access and Mobility for Disabled or Rural Individuals
On Tuesday, October 29, The USDOT hosted a Summit for Access and Mobility for All. Speeches and panel discussions focused on the need to improve transportation options for people with disabilities through strategies such as universal design, better wayfinding, increased affordability, and new technologies. The Department pledged $48.5 million towards three new programs to enhance transportation options for people with disabilities, older adults, and people in rural areas.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced five initiatives that have been and will be taking place at the Department:
- New Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility Strategic Plan – The Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility, established in 2004, recently met for the first time in ten years. The Council developed a new strategic plan, as required in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act with the four goals of 1) improving access to communities through transportation; 2) enhancing cost-effectiveness of coordinated transportation; 3) strengthening interagency partnerships and collaboration with state, local, and industry groups; and 4) demonstrating innovative coordinated transportation.
- USDOT ramped up research in accessibility over the last two years by 50 percent – The Department has invested in programs such as rural accessibility programs.
- New Complete Trip Deployment Program – The Department plans to direct $40 million over four years towards projects to increase mobility for people in rural areas, people with disabilities, and older adults through a holistic approach of providing more choices and better access.
- New Inclusive Design Challenge – $5 million in competitive grant money will be awarded in the spring of 2021 mainly to academia and the private sector for the development of technologies that improve accessibility of light-duty passenger vehicles.
- New Mobility for all Pilot Program – The FTA will administer this program to help communities provide or enhance transit service in both rural and urban areas.
Other topics addressed in the afternoon panels included the need to rethink parking requirements to ensure available spots for those who need them, the benefits of universal design for all users, and the need to ensure that agencies know all of the funding opportunities to implement better transportation services for people with disabilities. There were also discussions on both private and transit vehicle design and technologies. Safety considerations such as the position of wheelchair securement (backwards facing is safer than forwards facing), and the need for a securement method for those who cannot do so themselves on potentially driverless vehicles arose, though were not included specifically in any new funding or programming.
Access and mobility for people with disabilities is not just about improving paratransit response time (which is also an achievable goal). It is also about ensuring opportunities to health and wellness and societal participation by all people. Many of the speakers, including Secretary Chao, emphasized the need for expanded and more affordable transportation options for people with disabilities to provide better access to jobs. With 26 percent of adults in the U.S. living with some type of disability, further inclusion into the workforce and other aspects of society can have a profound positive impact on our national economy and on tens of millions of live