Advances in technology, such as new transportation apps and audio signals, as well as other enhancements, like tactile curb cuts, have, to some degree, helped to level the transportation field for individuals with visual impairment and other disabilities. However, recent developments, like the expansion of outdoor seating and additional pandemic nuances, have created some challenges as well. Following are recent items that may be of interest:
Funding Available to Improve Rail Station Accessibility
“’While our country has made enormous progress in the three decades since passing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), too many people with disabilities still don’t have access to reliable public transportation,’” according to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. To address the situation, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has issued a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for $343 million available as part of the All Stations Accessibility Program (ASAP), one of the programs established under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), signed into law in November 2021. Over the next five years, ASAP will provide $1.75 billion to improve accessibility at older rail stations that are non-compliant with the ADA. Approximately 927 rail stations in the U.S., about one-fourth of the nation’s total number, are non-ADA accessible, according to the National Transit Database. Many of these stations are found in urban settings, particularly older systems, such as those in New England, the New York City metropolitan area, New Jersey, and Chicago. While some systems have designated funding to station accessibility projects, the grants made through ASAP “will provide dedicated funding for accessibility improvements that meet or exceed the standards included in the Americans with Disabilities Act.” Among the improvements are repairs, improvements, modifications, and retrofitting the infrastructure of passenger stations and facilities. Upgrades in technology, such as wayfinding, can also be funded through these grants. Read more from the Mass Transit article entitled FTA issues NOFO for rail station accessibility program.
Pilot of Transit App for People Who Are Blind in Washington, DC Has Potential to Benefit All Riders
A new technology designed to make the transit network fully accessible to people with visual impairments could also help to overcome one of the greatest challenges facing everyone when trying to navigate underground areas that GPS can’t reach. The Washington (DC) Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is the “first in the U.S. to offer free, turn-by-turn audio directions throughout 25 of its most heavily utilized underground subway stations and over 1,000 bus stops.” In launching the free app, Waymap, the London-based company behind it, joined with partner organizations, such as Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind, WMATA, The White House Office of Public Engagement, National Industries for the Blind, American Council of the Blind (ACB), Verizon, and Catholic University. Plans call for the expansion of this technology to the area’s remaining stations by mid-2023. And Waymap is also reported to be in talks with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and with transit agencies in cities in Europe. Waymap uses sensors built into most cell phones to detect a user’s movement and location to alert the individual when to turn to avoid oncoming obstacles like open stairwells and route them safely to a train platform, or even a water fountain or bench. The technology can also let the user know of any changes, like a broken elevator, through algorithms that detect when others are avoiding a route and will recommend an alternative, similar to navigation apps for driving that warn users of traffic congestion. While Waymap is designed for people with visual impairments, it can be adapted to just about anyone with a disability or anyone who wants some “help finding their way,” because it can be adjusted based on the specific “stride length, mobility challenges, cognitive needs, and more,” according to the company’s Chief Operating Officer Celso Zuccollo. Read more in ACB’s article entitled “Waymap Launches A Navigation System that Provides Accessibility for Blind People to Use Public Transporation in DC Metro Area” and from STREETSBLOG USA here about “How a Transit App for the Blind Could Revolutionize How Everyone Rides.”