Codifying Accessibility and Equity: Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the ADA

This month marks 30 years since the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. This landmark civil rights legislation prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in public, commercial, medical, and transportation settings, among others.

Title II of the ADA guarantees individuals with disabilities equal access to public transit systems. Since its enactment, the transportation industry has made progress toward widespread accessibility in transportation, but there is an incredible amount of work to be done.

Improving Accessibility in Public Transit

The U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics states that over 25.5 million Americans have a travel-limiting mobility due to disability. Transit authorities in major cities across the U.S. like Chicago, Boston, and New York have created accessibility advisory committees and pledged to improve accessibility across their systems. The Chicago Transit Authority’s ADA Advisory Committee says it has made nearly 70 percent of all rail stations in the city accessible since 1990. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has expanded elevator service in stations across the Boston area. New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is committed to making all stations accessible in the next decade.

Mobility is a Right

While many public and private agencies have made substantial improvements in accessibility and mobility, there is still much to be done. For passengers with mobility-limiting disabilities, many travel barriers still exist. Transferring seats on airplanes remains difficult, and many airplane restrooms are inaccessible for manual and power wheelchairs. Railways and railcars that predate the ADA still require many accessibility updates. These access gaps are driving transportation leaders to make meaningful change. The WTS Diversity and Inclusion Initiative, led by the International Board and its Diversity and Inclusion Committee, is creating strategic plans to ensure more accessibility in our industry by way of making its workforce more diverse and inclusive.

The Path Forward

Our partnerships with Industry Allies: the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), American Public Transportation Association (APTA), American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARBTA), COMTO National, and the Transportation Research Board (TRB) and our Corporate Partners, allows us to work toward creating an accessible and equitable transportation industry for riders, professionals, and leaders.

The transportation industry is working to improve accessibility across modes and sectors. It is not just about ridership. The individuals designing, planning, and implementing transportation plans must be representative of the ridership they serve. From the bus to the boardroom, transportation must be an equitable and inclusive space.