Amtrak should be fully accessible for people with disabilities

by BERNIE FRANKS-ONGOY

The promise of the ADA remains as vital today as when it was passed — to ensure full integration of people with disabilities into every aspect of society by prohibiting discrimination and to guarantee accessibility of accommodations in employment, government services and public accommodations. The ADA took the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 one step further to require that all entities, public and private, provide access to people with disabilities on the same level as people without disabilities. One entity in particular has failed in that promise. The National Passenger Railroad Corporation, also known as Amtrak, has received many opportunities from Congress and the Departments of Transportation and Justice to come into compliance, including an extra 20 years to make its stations accessible.

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Bernadette Franks-Ongoy is executive director of Disability Rights Montana. Bernie was raised by a mom with a disability and a dad who did not realize he was a feminist! She lived in an accessible house before the ADA was made into a law. Bernie has served as president of the National Disability Rights Network.

However, four years after the 20-year extension, there remains much to be done. Some of the glaring barriers are things that should not have taken 24 years to make accessible.

Does it really require that long to install a ramp to a station entrance so that a person using a wheelchair can actually get into the station?

Amtrak, which calls itself “America’s Railroad,” should set an example of full accessibility for people with disabilities. As the nation’s largest passenger  rail system, it should be the gold standard for how to best serve people with disabilities, not the bottom of the barrel. In fact, since many commuter trains stop at Amtrak stations, making Amtrak stations fully accessible would help make commuter rail accessible as well.

Amtrak has failed people with disabilities by failing to effectively use the hundreds of millions of dollars it has received to comply with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

During the summer of 2013 disability rights advocates surveyed Amtrak stations for obstacles that people with disabilities face when they attempt to use the system. The barriers they found are barriers that people with disabilities confront all across the country every day.

Of the 94 stations visited, 89 were found to have one or more barriers to accessibility. People with disabilities are asked to ride on Amtrak trains, even with Amtrak’s problems, as Amtrak needs to see that people with disabilities are an important part of their market. Report and file complaints with the Department of Justice

Disability Rights Section at 202-307-0663 and Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration’s Office of Civil Rights at fra.dot.gov/Page/P0578 if you run into barriers at stations or onboard the trains.

The complete copy of the All Aboard Report can be found at: dadsupport.ndrn.org/pub/NDRN_Amtrak_Report.pdf This article was written by staff of the National Disability Rights Network, a membership organization of the Protection and Advocacy System located in Washington, DC.

“Amtrak is required to make all stations in its systems readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, including individuals who use wheelchairs, as soon as practicable but in no event later than 20 years after the date of enactment.” — House Committee on Energy and Commerce, May 15, 1990.

“At its heart, the [Americans with Disabilities Act] is simple…. This landmark law is about securing for people with disabilities the most fundamental of rights: ‘the right to live in the world.’ It ensures they can go places and do things that other Americans take for granted.” — Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) “Americans with Disabilities Act at 20: A Nation Transformed.”

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