Washington, Nov. 3 – While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has enabled many people with disabilities to have physical access and more rights, numerous challenges still remain. Fully 70 percent of working-age people with disabilities do not have a job, the same rate it was when the ADA was passed in 1990.
When a person with a disability finds a job, it is vital that they be able to physically go to the job. Many people with disabilities do not drive due to their disability or are unable to afford private transportation.
Therefore, as part of the #PwDsVote Disability Questionnaire, the nonpartisan, nonprofit disability organization RespectAbility asked candidates running for president, senate or governor about their plans to address this issue. Every candidate was given an equal opportunity to respond and if they are not listed, it is because they declined to answer.
Finding affordable transportation solutions for people with disabilities can help drive down the unemployment rate for people with disabilities. For many people, the solution will be accessible public transportation and ensuring that bus routes take passengers to places where they can work. In a place where that is not possible, new transportation solutions like Uber or Lyft may or may not be an option for some people with disabilities. While ride-sharing services can be of assistance for individuals with hearing or sight disabilities, both services have limited options for wheelchair access. On the other end, for people with disabilities who do drive, such companies as Uber or Lyft also can provide a way to enter into the workforce with flexible hours.
The quotes in this article are the candidates’ answers to question 15 in the gubernatorial/senate questionnaire: “Do you have a plan to address the lack of accessible transportation options that is a barrier to work for people with disabilities?” This was adapted from a similar question, number 14, in the presidential questionnaire.
Democrat Sec. Sue Minter, who previously served as Secretary of Transportation in Vermont, is running to be the state’s next governor.
“As Secretary of Transportation, I worked to expand public transit options throughout the state, including to people with disabilities,” she replied. “As a State Representative, I helped initiate a program in my district to bring seniors and people with disabilities to a community center for meals, care, and socializing. I will continue to explore innovative ways to expand public transit options for people with disabilities.”
Her opponent, Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, said he would continue Vermont’s accessible public transportations initiative and “look to make them more robust.”
“This access is critical, as we live in a rural state and very few have the option of living right where they work,” he responded. “Our current public transportation vehicles are ADA compliant and as we build out transportation options and routes, those additions will meet those same standards.”
Nevada is another state facing this issue.
“You can’t keep a job if you are unable to find consistent transportation to and from that job,” Republican Rep. Joe Heck, who is running for the open senate seat, said. “This is especially challenging for individuals with disabilities who sometimes require special transportation accommodations to meet their unique needs. We must make sure that a variety of transportation options are available and that members of the community and their advocates have all of the information necessary to be able to access it.”
Democrat Atty. Gen. Catherine Cortez Masto called for “exploring a 21st century funding solution to America’s 21st century infrastructure needs – including funding new technology and engineering advances to update our transportation to be more accessible and inclusive to people with disabilities.”
Check out all of the candidates’ full responses below:
NOTE: Donald Trump declined to respond to the survey.
Former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton (D)
“I have a robust, five-year $275 billion dollar infrastructure plan that will ensure that Americans across the country, including Americans with disabilities, have access to affordable, public transportation that will connect them with jobs and opportunities. I know that a dearth of reliable and efficient public and other transportation options often creates a huge barrier to Americans attempting to build better lives. This is why my plan calls for prioritizing and increasing investments in public transit that will improve the quality of life for all our communities – rural and urban – as well as encouraging local governments to work directly with low-income and minority communities to ensure that federal investments are creating transit options that connect the unemployed to the jobs and services they need.
I also recognize that lack of access for people with disabilities supersedes transportation. As Senator, I introduced the Count Every Vote Act, which mandated that at least one machine per precinct provide for paper, audio, and pictorial verification and accommodate people with disabilities, language minorities, and voters who cannot read their ballot. The Heroes at Home Act of 2007 built off my 2006 initiative to, among other things, increase the use of telehealth and telemental services for veterans with disabilities. And as Secretary of State, I worked to ensure that the Department was accessible to staff and visitors with disabilities, though advances in infrastructure, communication, and information technology. As President, I will continue to expand services for persons with mobility and sensory disabilities, among others.
The ADA was a tremendous step forward in expanding transportation options for persons with disabilities, and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, which I cosponsored, moved the ADA one step forward by, among other things, making it easier for individuals with disabilities, including autism, to benefit from the protections of this landmark law. As President, I will push for increased funding for and expansion of these protections.”
State Sen. Colin Bonini (DE-R)
“Delaware has one of the most extensive and generous Paratransit programs in the country. It is expensive, so every year there are debates on how to streamline it. I absolutely support the continued funding of Paratransit, but there are areas that can be improved. For example, the routing is not done as efficiently as it could be. There are software technology solutions that could improve the routing that are not being utilized, which could improve efficiency, save money and help ensure the viability of the program.”
Rep. John Carney (DE-D)
“Delaware has a strong transportation system for those with disabilities. The state’s Paratransit system is one of the most robust systems of its kind in the nation. There are also many other organizations, such as the Modern Maturity Center, Kent-Sussex Industries, CHEER, and Easter Seals, that provide transportation services for those in need. However, the system is also very disconnected and expensive to operate. As Governor, I will look for opportunities to more efficiently and cost effectively provide these services without sacrificing accessibility for those who need affordable transportation options.”
Ms. Linda Coleman (NC-D) – running for Lt. Gov.
“We need to improve access to affordable, reliable public transportation in general. As our state transportation infrastructure becomes better connected, PwDs will enjoy a direct benefit that will weaken a major economic barrier to the disability community. As Lt. Governor, I will work with my partners on the state and local levels to advocate for federal dollars to expand transportation options.”
Mr. Mike Weinholtz (UT-D)
“The principal public transportation department in the state, the Utah Transit Authority (UTA), has been under fire in recent years due to questionable spending, poor bus services, and a general feeling that they are removed from the average rider.
Furthermore, the application and approval process to ride the UTA Para-transit service is overly burdensome on those who have disabilities, requiring both electronic and printed paperwork as well as emails and phone calls just to gain an appointment. This is onerous and poses a real problem for many.
Complicating the issue is that UTA is a quasi-governmental agency that is technically considered independent, but is greatly dependent on taxpayer dollars to function. This means that there is not much a governor can do to directly influence changes to this system. However, the state legislature and local governments do provide funding and board membership for the agency. As governor, I would advocate for greater transparency on the board and an increased emphasis on better transportation options in general, including services for those with disabilities.”
Sec. Sue Minter (VT-D)
“As Secretary of Transportation, I worked to expand public transit options throughout the state, including to people with disabilities. As a State Representative, I helped initiate a program in my district to bring seniors and people with disabilities to a community center for meals, care, and socializing. I will continue to explore innovative ways to expand public transit options for people with disabilities.”
Lt. Gov. Phil Scott (VT-R)
“I will continue Vermont’s accessible public transportation initiatives and look to make them more robust. This access is critical, as we live in a rural state and very few have the option of living right where they work. Our current public transportation vehicles are ADA compliant and as we build out transportation options and routes, those additions will meet those same standards.”
Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris (CA-D)
“Kamala Harris understands that transportation can present a significant hurdle for persons with disabilities, and that across California, we have $59 billion in unmet transportation infrastructure needs. Senator Barbara Boxer has been a national leader on expanding our nation’s transportation infrastructure, and Kamala plans to continue California’s leadership in the Senate by supporting proposals to create an infrastructure bank to repair and expand our transportation infrastructure, including for persons with disabilities. Kamala also supports the important progress the Americans with Disabilities Act has made to the transportation options available for persons with disabilities.”
Rep. Loretta Sanchez (CA-D)
“As a conferee for the reauthorization of the FAST Act, I worked across the aisle and helped negotiate the first long-term funding for transportation infrastructure in over ten years. The reauthorization contained funding for the Enhanced Mobility of Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities Program, which helps to break transportation barriers and aid in increased mobility. When elected to the Senate, I plan to continue my support of these types of programs.”
Mr. John Carroll (HI-R)
“Hawaii has one of the best public transportation systems in the country, and has operated as such for many years. That system is also very inclusive, and has been from its inception, of our citizens with disabilities. We here in Hawaii have many transportation programs and initiatives that are available to people with disabilities, and we are proud of that.”
Rep. Tammy Duckworth (IL-D)
“The dearth of accessible and affordable transportation for people with disabilities is a significant obstacle to quality, meaningful employment. I serve as the Democratic Ranking Member of the Transportation and Public Assets Subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where I fight for the availability of affordable transportation for all. I will do all I can to remove barriers to the employment of people with disabilities.”
Mr. Patrick Wiesner (KS-D)
“I need more information before I can formulate a comprehensive plan. My plan will be based on evidence provided by experts in the field.”
Mr. Foster Campbell (LA-D)
“I plan to support investment in infrastructure that will improve access to public transportation to assist all American workers and those seeking access to work. I agree that we need to invest in public transit in rural communities and federal investment in local programs that work with vulnerable communities to create transit access for people with disabilities. I support funding and expansion of protections built into the ADA.”
Ms. Caroline Fayard (LA-D)
“Having helped launch the New Orleans-based regional airline GLO, I know the benefits that improved transportation and infrastructure can bring to our economy. We rely on our roads, bridges, levees, and railways to get to work, take our kids to school, and, yes, even get the shrimp that’s in our étouffée. Inadequate and outdated funding models for infrastructure have forced our communities to defer capacity, safety, and maintenance projects that cannot be put off any longer. Investing in our infrastructure means investing in our communities, creating jobs, ensuring Louisiana can compete nationally and globally, and protecting our homes from floods and natural disasters.
Investments in public transit, in particular, will improve the quality of life for all our communities and will help people with disabilities, as well as low-income families and minorities, reach the jobs and resources that they need.”
Mr. Abhay Patel (LA-R)
“Mobility and transportation options are a true limiting factor on one’s ability to earn a living. Again, we must incentivize the market to ensure these demands are met.”
Del. Kathy Szeliga (MD-R)
“The ABLE Act, that I cosponsored in 2015, allows for people with disabilities to use the funds to cover transportation expenses.”
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (MD-D)
“We need to ensure that persons with disabilities have reliable transportation to access work, their doctors, and other errands that help them remain independent. I have worked closely with my constituents to help them navigate programs like MetroAccess in the Washington, D.C. area, which has struggled to provide reliable service. I have also supported pilot programs in Maryland to provide transit options for persons with disabilities attending community programs, so they would have a safe and reliable ride to and from the site. In addition to specialized services like these, we need to ensure that public transit is broadly accessible, with working elevators and clear and accessible signage and announcements.”
Sec. of State Jason Kander (MO-D)
“Public transportation is a public good, and that includes providing accommodations for people with a disability, particularly when considering the economic barriers many already face. I would support efforts to expand public transportation options so those with disabilities will not be forced to rely on others and can independently get to and from where they need to be.”
Rep. Joe Heck (NV-R)
“You can’t keep a job if you are unable to find consistent transportation to and from that job. This is especially challenging for individuals with disabilities who sometimes require special transportation accommodations to meet their unique needs. We must make sure that a variety of transportation options are available and that members of the community and their advocates have all of the information necessary to be able to access it. In addition, there must be proper oversight of any existing transportation programs aimed at serving individuals with disabilities to ensure they are providing the service as advertised.”
Atty. Gen. Catherine Cortez Masto (NV-D)
“I support exploring a 21st century funding solution to America’s 21st century infrastructure needs – including funding new technology and engineering advances to update our transportation to be more accessible and inclusive to people with disabilities.”
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (NH-R)
“I supported the long-term highway bill that the Senate passed in 2015 laying out our highway and infrastructure policies for the next five years. Included in that legislation were specific provisions to help bolster transportation options for seniors and individuals with disabilities. Going forward, I will continue to explore other ways we can expand access to transportation options at the federal level.”
Gov. Maggie Hassan (NH-D)
“We need to continue focusing on expanding all transportation options, including those that are accessible to individuals with disabilities. As Governor I have supported efforts to expand accessible bus service in parts of the state, and in the Senate I will continue to support similar efforts. I have also fought throughout my time as Governor to move forward with commuter rail from Boston to Nashua and Manchester, and I will continue working to secure federal support for critical projects like this in the Senate and ensure that they are accessible to individuals with disabilities.”
Sen. Richard Burr (NC-R)
“We need to focus greater attention on the availability of accessible options for people with disabilities at the local level.
At the federal level, the conversation on disability and transportation is almost exclusively about larger cities. Often overlooked is the severe lack of transportation options in medium and small communities. These cities need funds to replace older buses and vans that are currently not ADA compliant. I worked with my colleagues in the Senate to increase the pool of money available to these cities through the Bus and Bus Facilities Competitive Grant Program. This will allow smaller municipalities to provide transportation options that are ADA compliant. For too long, transportation funding has focused on larger cities, leaving millions of people with disabilities with limited options.
Additionally, as governments make budgetary decisions. I believe people with disabilities should not be adversely impacted when fares are increased for mass transit systems. For example, I worked with the Charlotte Area Transit System after receiving a constituent complaint about proposed fare hikes. Following conversations I facilitated between the constituent and the city, the Metropolitan Transit Commission recommended against making the change that could have adversely impacted people with disabilities in the community.
I should also note that one of the benefits of the ABLE Act is that it allows ABLE accounts to be used to cover transportation expenses, including transit fares, the purchase of a vehicle, or making modifications to a vehicle.”
State Rep. Deborah Ross (NC-D)
“At GoTriangle, we worked to increase public transportation options for all people, and specifically worked to address the lack of accessible options for people with disabilities. This was a major issue for us, and I continue to be a champion of improving public transportation for all people when I am in the U.S. Senate.”
Mr. Joe DeMare (OH-G)
“In Wood County, one of our local municipalities, Perrysburg, appointed a member of the Libertarian Party to their city council. Libertarians believe that the government has no role in doing things like providing public transportation. One of the first acts the Council then did was to eliminate public transportation in Perrysburg. Many disabled people became virtual prisoners in their homes. Blind people, especially were unable to do simple things like go to the grocery store. The Wood County Green Party, under my leadership, helped pass a ballot issue that restored public transportation funding.
Many local municipalities depend upon federal matching grants to maintain their roads and bridges. I intend to make those funds contingent upon providing adequate public transportation to all their citizens, including the disabled. Greens also want to see an increase in the use of rail, and a de-emphasis on the use of automobiles. It’s part of our plan to go carbon free by 2030.”
Mr. Mark Callahan (OR-R)
“The communities I mention above would be benefited well with a transportation system or as in Oregon bus routes that go from them to places people need to go for work, necessities, medical, and leisure. By ensuring they have affordable housing, encouraging self sustainability, and encouraging proper medical care this will allow for funds to be directed at creating transportation solutions. Uber and Lyft could have an entire system set up for the disabled that would easily allow for them to get to where they need, but as well just as in a retirement community there is transportation available for those who need more assistance.”
Mrs. Katie McGinty (PA-D)
“In cities like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, public transit is accessible, and authorities like SEPTA offer additional Alternate Acceptable Service for people with disabilities, providing a freedom of movement. I support increasing funding for transportation infrastructure so that seniors and those with disabilities have access to transit services across states like Pennsylvania, including areas where a robust public transit system may not already exist.”
Mr. Jay Williams (SD-D)
“I have no specific plans in place to deal with specific issues of the disabled. I understand the need to help those with disabilities and I pledge to work to address these issues if elected.”
Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (WI-D)
“Equality of opportunity in the 21st century depends on updated, efficient, and accessible transportation, and people with disabilities must be able to access affordable and reliable transit options. I’ve released the Badger Innovation Plan, which calls for the federal government to partner with states to modernize American infrastructure. I also support full enforcement of the ADA to ensure that sidewalks have curb ramps and street crossings have audible signals. ”
RespectAbility has asked all the candidates for Governor and Senator on both sides of the aisle to complete the same questionnaire. We will share responses from additional campaigns as we receive them.
The RespectAbility Report is a nonpartisan political commentary on the 2016 U.S. elections with a focus on disability issues. The RespectAbility Report has covered all of the Democratic and Republican candidates for president, senate and governor. Coverage can be found at https://therespectabilityreport.org/. The RespectAbility Report is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates.