Vredenburgh & Associates, Inc.
Vredenburgh & Associates, Inc.
[one_half]The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990 and went into effect on January 26, 1992 (Federal Register, 1991). Its passage marked the enactment of a new generation of civil rights laws aimed at ending discrimination against people with disabilities. One of the main purposes of the Act is to provide federal standards for a national mandate for eliminating discrimination against persons with disabilities, including making sure all buildings that are open to public commerce are accessible to people with disabilities to the maximum extent possible.
Transit providers of “fixed route systems,” which follow a certain route and schedule, must provide entrances accessible for wheelchairs, as well as wheelchair securement devices, non-slip flooring, illumination, minimum door widths, hand rails, stop announcements and alternative accessible communication for riders with impaired hearing, vision or speech (FTA, 1991). These provisions are necessary for people with disabilities who are able to navigate and travel independently.
The ADA also requires para-transit systems for people without the ability to travel independently. Fixed route providers must make para-transit service available to those who cannot utilize standard public transit. Certain individuals have[/one_half]
[one_half_last]special circumstances preventing their use of the conventional transit system such as their geographic location, various obstacles, the inability to navigate independently, special scheduling needs or specific accessible transportation requirements making them eligible for para-transit. A system to determine user eligibility for this service is outlined in the ADA and enforced by the Federal Transit Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Washington DC is the #2 vacation destination in America (US News & World Report). While working in Washington, DC consulting on a project that involved accessibility and environmental design of multi-family housing, we decided to test the public transportation system for the people residing at the properties we were evaluating, as well as for other members of the public who have disabilities. Using our test wheelchair, we decided to ride the Washington, DC Metro from the station nearest to where we were working, to the station nearest our hotel.
We expected to find a few minor barriers. We did not expect to encounter significant obstacles during our evaluation. We entered the metro at the Takoma Station. Figure 1 depicts the main entrance. We tried to enter with the general[/one_half_last]
[one_half]population at the main station entrance, but to no avail. We were told that there was no accessible entrance with an elevator at this entrance.
We were instructed to travel outdoors, the equivalent of a city block, to the “accessible entrance” where there is an elevator. The elevator was at the end of a dark, isolated and narrow tunnel that may feel threatening to venture into alone or in the evening hours (see Figure 2). Furthermore, to reach this entrance requires that the more vulnerable passengers with disabilities be exposed longer to outside weather.[/one_half]
After we exited the elevator, we tried to use the vending machine to purchase a ticket; there was no human attendant on duty to assist us at that location. After making our purchase, the machine had no tray to catch the ticket, so it dropped to the ground. A wheelchair user may not be able to retrieve the small paper ticket from the ground if no one is around to assist (see Figure 3).[/one_half_last]
While the ticket vending machine may meet the relevant height specifications of the ADA it would not necessarily be accessible to many users of wheelchairs. A user would need to use their left hand to insert their payment and their right hand to catch the ticket before it falls to the ground. Riders without the experience to know the ticket will fall and the reflexes to be able to catch their ticket in time will have difficulty traveling alone.
Boarding the train also exposed barriers to accessibility. In the time it took to take this photograph of our test wheelchair boarding the[/one_half]
[one_half_last]train, the door closed on the photographer’s armas she was boarding, and would not release it. We were the only two people boarding at that stop; if someone was boarding slower with a manual chair, a walker, crutches or a cane, he or she could become trapped in the doors. In order to remove the photographer’s arm before the train departed the station, several passengers helped pry the door open. The photographer was left outside with both cell phones, while the passenger with the wheelchair had no way to communicate how to reunite. She exited at the next stop and boarded the following train, where she and the photographer were reunited.
The train entrances we used all had gaps between the platform and the train of at least 3 inches (see Figure 5). The ADA requires a maximum horizontal gap, measured when the vehicle is at rest, of no greater than 3 inches (76.2 mm) between platform edge and train door sill (6.1.6). This train door gap significantly exceeds other ADA specifications such as the maximum gap in elevator doorways, which is 1 ¼ ” (4.10.9). A gap of 3″ may prove to be problematic for some wheelchair, walker and cane users. Such a gap introduces the possibility of an entrapment hazard for assistive device users as many devices would easily fit within the 3″ space. People with disabilities may not have the strength or reflexes to dislodge their device in a narrow timeframe. New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, states that it provides, “platform gap modifications or bridge plates to reduce or eliminate the gap between trains and platforms” (MTA Website).
[one_half]When we reunited on the next train, we decided to test what would happen if an object, such as awheelchair or walker, got trapped in the doors.According to the ADA, if a person or an object obstructs the doors of an elevator, the doors should reopen instantly and automatically. This is triggered by sensors that must be located inside the door at five inches above the floor and again at a height of 29 inches. For some reason these same rules do not apply to trains.
We decided to place a water bottle in the opening and see if it would get crushed, or if the doors would reverse when striking an object. The bottle was crushed in the doors and was held tight; the doors did not reverse. Eventually (approximately 20 seconds later), the doors reopened and we removed the bottle (see Figure 6).
From a human factors’ perspective, the transfer of training from other experiences users may have with automatic doors was inconsistent with the operation of the train doors. For example, elevator and garage doors are designed to reopen immediately if there is an obstruction in the doorway. A user who is familiar with these door types but not with the Metro system may incorrectly believe the doors will not close on them. This faulty logic may result in riders who approach and attempt to board a train without having enough time to do so safely, especially when the terminal is crowded or if a person is[/one_half]
[one_half_last]slow moving due to mobility impairment. The design of this system could result in the doors closing on a person with a disability, possibly resulting in further injury. Another concern we encountered on the train was that there no designated location to safely position and secure a wheelchair while on the train; there was no place specified to anchor the wheelchair. A person in a wheelchair would be forced to locate their chair in an aisle where it could block traffic flow on the train (see Figure 7).
We exited the train at the Dupont Circle station (see Figure 8). We then searched for the elevator to get to street level. An attendant told us that the elevator to access the street was out of service. We were instructed that in order to exit this station, we would need to get back on the train and exit at the Farragut North station. Then we would need to catch a shuttle bus back to Dupont Circle. When we inquired how long the elevator had been out of service, we were told that it had been for about a year. Therefore, anyone who has a mobility impairment that requires the use of an elevator would have to follow this extensive, time-consuming protocol to access the street at Dupont Circle. At that point, because we had an appointment, and because we were able to use an escalator, we chose to exit the station at that point (see Figure 9). However, many people with disabilities do not have this choice.
When we expressed surprise at the protocol necessary to exit the station: “Are you serious?” and then questioned the length of time the elevator was out of service (a year), the employee said, “You had a bad upbringing. I will not help you any more.” Therefore, this employee’s attitude reflected the metro system’s physical lack of access.
It is foreseeable that at times, public transportation will experience temporary mechanical difficulties. When this occurs, it is even more important to have knowledgeable, and helpful personnel to assist people with disabilities. Training personnel to handle such issues sensitively is an administrative control that will enhance user experience and would likely decrease user dissatisfaction with the Metro system.
We were surprised that on each and every step of what should have been a short and easy journey, we encountered significant barriers to accessibility that resulted in difficulty using the metro system. In order to fully assess the accessibility issues that arose in our short journey for other disability types, it would important to test the system using different types of assistive[/one_half]
devices. Any transit authority employee can testthe usability of their system by travelling to eachstation using a wheelchair. This testing can informthe authority of barriers that can be evaluated todetermine whether they can be removed, in order to improve the accessibility to residents andvisitors of our nation’s capital.
ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities (ADAAG). Available at http://www.accessboard.gov/adaag/html/adaag.htm.
Federal Register (1991). Nondiscrimination on the basis of disability by public accommodations and in commercial facilities, Vol. 56, No. 144, Department of Justice.
Federal Transit Administration (1991). Transportation for individuals with disabilities, 49 CFR, US Department of Transportation.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority website. Available at: http://www.mta.info/accessibility/
Technical Memorandum Station Platform Geometric Design, TM 2.2.4. Available at http://www.tillier.net/stuff/hsr/TM%202.2.4%20Station%20Platform%20Geometric%20Design%20R0%20080516%20TM%20Exce.pdf.
US News and World Report. Available at http://travel.usnews.com/Rankings/best_usa_vacations/[/one_half_last]