Life with MS

Paratransit: A Road to Independence

By Camille Wallace, Esq.

Individuals with disabilities had their civil rights protected when the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990. Because of this law, individuals with disabilities could no longer be subjected to discrimination related to employment, education, telecommunications, places and facilities open to the public, and transportation.

Under the ADA, an individual with a disability must have access to accessible transportation (fixed-route bus or rail system) in which the individual can get to a bus stop, board a bus, get off the bus, and travel to and from their destination independently. For those individuals with disability who cannot utilize accessible transportation independently, the ADA requires paratransit services be available.

The ADA paratransit service system is for individuals who have a physical, cognitive, emotional, visual, or another disability which functionally prevents them from using the fixed-route bus system temporarily or permanently. Specifically, the individual must meet one of the following three disability criteria to qualify for the paratransit service:

Category 1 – an individual who has a physical, mental, or emotional disability that requires assistance from another individual, who is not the bus driver, in order to get on, get off, and ride an accessible bus some or all the time.

Category 2 – an individual who can use an accessible bus independently, but no bus or vehicle is available on their route some or all the time.

Category 3 – an individual who has a specific disability condition that prevents them from getting to and from a stop within their service area some or all of the time.

Generally, the local community and transportation authority determine the application process for paratransit eligibility. Some areas have stringent requirements while others are less strict. Applicants may have to submit an application and provide supporting documentation, or undergo an interview or evaluation, or a combination of all or some of these processes. Whether an individual only submits a simple application, or undergoes a lengthier application procedure, the entire process is considered the ADA Eligibility Certification.

For example, in Broward County, Fla., the ADA eligibility certification for individuals interested in qualifying for paratransit includes a functional assessment to determine when, and the circumstances under which, an individual can use the fixed-route buses or paratransit service. This process includes completion of an application, as well as an evaluation to determine an individual’s functional needs or capabilities. As part of the assessment, the individual participates in a physical evaluation involving a simulated bus travel experience that includes boarding a bus, maneuvering a curb and curb cut, and crossing the street.

The assessment comprises both a physical and cognitive evaluation of the individual’s functional capabilities. Physically, the individual will be watched for balance, strength, coordination, range of motion, vision, and respiration. To test an individual’s cognitive functional abilities, the individual may have to take tests designed to measure memory, attention span, and the ability to find one’s bus route.

In considering eligibility, an individual’s age, inconvenience, discomfort, inability to drive, financial status, or lack of fixed-route service within three-fourths of a mile of the nearest fixed-route bus stop may considered in determining an individual’s eligibility for paratransit. In addition, eligibility criteria may also be limited to certain groups of individuals, such as seniors or individuals receiving social services.

After the application process is completed, an individual should receive written notification of their eligibility for ADA paratransit services and their category of eligibility as determined by the local authority.

If an individual is not found eligible to use paratransit, then the individual may have alternatives to assist them with travel. “Travel training” is a free alternative that may be available to teach individuals how to use the fixed-route buses. As another alternative, individuals could request an eligibility determination to simply use paratransit for specific destinations such as medical appointments. Finally, the fixed-route bus system should be designed with route announcements, lifts, ramps, priority seating, easy-to-read signs, and other accessible accommodations to make the trip experience manageable for people with all types of disabilities.

Overall, the ADA paratransit service system offers valuable benefits to the lives of people with disabilities. Once found eligible, riders typically can use paratransit services in other places they visit. Many riders find it a premier source for linking them to places, people, and things to do in their neighborhood and around the community. Finally, while the ADA paratransit service system is often the subject of criticism, paratransit services still remain a key component for full integration for individuals with disabilities.