When WMATA last launched a survey of riders – for the proposed GM’s budget – their online survey had many problems. One of the biggest was a lack of accessible formats for disabled riders to be able to participate. WMATA rectified this error after it was brought to their attention, so you’d think they’d have remembered to include the disabled community the next time they’d run a survey.
Unfortunately, it seems they don’t learn from their mistakes (or simply don’t care) – WMATA launched a new survey today, forms available to riders at Metro stations to be filled out and left in comments boxes. This is a Twitter conversation I had with @The2030Group just after they started promtoting the survey on Twitter about the survey’s formats.
Since then, the sound of silence from @The2030Group has been deafening.
I spoke with Patrick Sheehan, the Chairman of the Accessibility Advisory Committee, who said this was the first he’d heard of the survey to begin with.
Once more, WMATA has shown it really doesn’t think about the disabled passengers or their opinions – which is doubly strange given that as part of “Demand Management” of MetroAccess, DC’s Paratransit system, WMATA is pushing as many riders as possible off MetroAccess and onto fixed-route transit.
WMATA wants disabled riders on fixed-route transit, but they’re only interested in the opinions of those disabled riders when it’s pointed out to them that they’ve shut us out of offering any opinions. It’s very difficult to see this as anything other than WMATA’s philosophy towards disabled riders opinions being “Whoops, we should do this to look good” surveying, rather than any serious desire for our input on a system they claim is accessible for us.
I just wonder if WMATA is going to try and blame the “oversight” of accessible formats for this survey on some over-eager guy in customer service as they did last time.
I expect at some point shortly we’ll be hearing that the survey *is* accessible – but forever more we’ll have doubts if it *started out* accessible, or if they’re backtracking to cover their institutional ignorance of a demographic of their ridership.
There were a few more messages yesterday evening from @The2030Group via Twitter on this topic following from my last tweet quoted above:
I’d like to thank @The2030Group for responding and clarifying their (non) involvement in the accessibility failure of this latest WMATA survey.
I’ve asked WMATA if they’d like to explain the situation, I’ll update if fortunate enough to actually get a reply.
@WMATA tweeted this esrlier this afternoon:
It’s astonishing that WMATA broadcasts “Be counted” when they appear to not have even bothered to solicit or encourage the participation of one of their ridership demographics. It’s hard to believe that WMATA’s intentions in taking riders from MetroAccess and putting them onto fixed-route is “enabling” in any way when they don’t even have the common courtesy to respond to concerns as to why this survey is not available to visually impaired riders (they didn’t even respond to acknowledge concerns raised in email at 9am today).
I believe their lack of response or concern is simply another indication of their attitude towards the disabled ridership full stop - inconvenient and not of sufficient numbers that they need to be worried enough to respond. They certainly appear to have demonstrated that either they didn’t even bother to think about the input of disabled riders with this survey, or they simply don’t care what they have to say.
But it’s obvious that once more at least one part of Metro is NOT accessible – but hey, it’s just disabled riders, so no big deal, right?
I believe @wmata will, if they ever condescend to even acknowledge this issue to begin with, try to point to this as how they’ll claim the survey is “accessible”
Which will, as is the norm for WMATA, sound perfectly plausible – except for a few minor issueds. One of them being, not everyone who is disabled and rides Metro has a way to get online to begin with, The second is, given the total failure of accessible online forms for the previous survey, it’s unlikely the current survey will be any more accessible than its predecessor was. Thirdly – the URL for this online form they’re likely to trumpet is printed on the survey cards … is it printed on the cards in an accessible format? I doubt it.
And of course, lastly, if the surveys are being handed out randomly, have the survey staff been given instructions to ensure they offer visually impaired riders the chance to participate, or will they look at the card in their hands, and assume that since it isn’t accessible there’s no point offering it to the visually impaired rider?
I actually received a reply to the email I sent this morning to WMATA, sent to me at 1625 (I was AFK this evening).
Metro receives an annual operating subsidy payment from each of the eight jurisdictions comprising the WMATA Compact area. The subsidy amount that each jurisdiction is required to contribute in support of Metrorail operations is calculated by a formula, one element of which is the proportion of the total ridership residing in each jurisdiction. In order to determine these proportions, WMATA conducts periodic surveys of Metrorail passengers. The last survey was conducted in 2007.
This effort is similar to the census, and the questions asked in the survey are limited to basic facts about the trip a customer is taking at the time the survey is given (origin, destination, purpose of trip, etc.). To be clear, this is *not* a customer service survey, and the data is collected by surveyors who distribute questionnaires at stations during time periods using a formula to achieve statistical accuracy. Some customers may be surveyed multiple times over the survey period. Others may not receive a survey at all.
There are 3 alternatives for passengers with vision impairment to participate in the survey:
1). Complete the survey online. The survey can be viewed in Metro’s recommended web application for the visually impaired, BrowseAloud. All of the questions are read correctly by the application.
2). Ask the survey distributor to help administrate the survey at the station. (During rush hours, there may be a brief wait if the distributor is handing out surveys.)
3). Complete the survey over the phone by calling 301-261-8806, from 9am to 4pm, Monday-Friday. The customer will need to provide the survey ID number at the bottom of survey form.
I still have problems seeing this as being accessible in any meaningful way. Points one and three I covered in my prediction of their response in a previous update – they both still require the user have online access, and can even read the survey ID number from the survey form in the first place.
As for the screen reader software involved – ummm, the idea of accessibility is to make it accessible to people with standard software, not “recommend” software. This is Washington DC, the number of JAWs screenreaders out there in Government-land alone should make that a part of any Section 508 compliance testing – something that wasn’t done with the previous survey in any respect at the beginning.
So of the three options WMATA believes qualifies this survey as “accessible”, the only one that doesn’t have a boat load of assumptions and dependencies involved is number two. The idea behind the survey appears to have been that riders would get handed a survey card entering the system, fill it out while in transit, and drop it in a suggestion box on the way out. WMATA’s solution for visually impaired is that they stand around and wait for a distributor to assist them, delaying their transit in the process.
I wonder how many riders, able bodied or disabled, would likely stand there to fill out a survey when they’re in a hurry to try and get home?
I’m not saying I have a solution – but I think WMATA has once more done itself a disservice by failing to even mention this to the Accessibility Advisory Committee to get feedback on how they could have ensured visually impaired riders were given effective and optimal methods to participate.
From the issues I note above with the answer WMATA gave, it’s very hard for me to not conclude that this survey is WMATA’s “Do the bare minimum to be able to say ‘accessible’ with a straight face” business as usual. Unfortunately, we’ll never know just how many of the survey responses received will be from disabled riders to determine if they were able to participate in this survey, which from WMATA’s own response appears to be one of the critical metrics used in determining funding matters.
We’ve been able to see a copy of the survey, and it’s very peculiar.
The survey asks questions about the rider’s demographics – race, income, etc. It also asks if you used a wheelchair to get to or leave from a station, or if you use an elderly/disabled pass.
That doesn’t however seem to be a very statistically viable way of determining how many riders in this survey are actually disabled – if anything, it seems to give the impression the only disability they’re going to track is wheelchair users. Nothing for blind, visually or cognitively impaired, deaf etc. These details may seem minor, but one could easily turn around and ask the relevance of race or income.
If WMATA considers those metrics to be important in assembling the rider statistics they’re going to present to the jurisdictions (as per their response this weekend), then why not statistics that encompass “disabled riders” as a whole rather than a very limited subset (wheelchair users or those with a specific type of farecard, which won’t cover MetroAccess users who ride fixed-route, or those who have disabilities but for whatever reason don’t have disability discounted farecards).
Once more, it gives the impression that WMATA really isn’t all that interested in its disabled ridership – not even enough to be able to gather good statistics on them. Your race and income is much more important to them for some obscure reason, I guess.
We also now know who is running the survey on WMATA’s behalf – WB and A Market Research (@WBandAMktRes) – whose Twitter profile proclaims they “[provide] meaningful information to enhance your organization’s performance.” Statistically representative numbers of disabled riders appear to not be that meaningful.