From the Editors: Ed Eames is one of the leaders of the National Federation of the Blind of California. His article about the Americans with Disabilities Act is worth contemplating. It reminds us of the necessity of winning our freedom anew every day. Here it is:
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will have a profound effect on many aspects of our lives. The National Federation of the Blind insisted on an amendment to protect us from some of the most invidious side effects of this mammoth piece of legislation. This amendment guarantees our right to refuse any accommodation we do not want, including the right to reject front seats on buses, bulkhead seating on airplanes, accommodation in accessible hotel rooms, etc.
One major area of ADA regulation is public transportation. On September 6, 1991, the Federal Register contained the new rules regarding fixed route and paratransit service. All transit authorities had to develop a five-year plan to show how they will conform to these new regulations. Most of these rules are related to making public transportation accessible for mobility impaired people, but several of the proposed changes have a direct effect on those of us who are blind.
Sharon Gold, President of the National Federation of the Blind of California, asked me to act as coordinator of issues and activities related to public transportation and the ADA in our state. Shortly thereafter, I received a call from Eric Foss, President of the Kern County Chapter of the NFB of California. The director of operations of the Bakersfield transit system had announced that, in accordance with the ADA regulations, a blind passenger boarding a bus at a stop where two or more routes intersected would be required to hold up a placard with the number of the desired bus route on it. The argument used for this procedure was that it was part of the ADA and would speed up bus service.
This demand shocked me. My wife Toni and I began listing the practical as well as the ideological reasons for our opposition to this system. Here are some of the questions and scenarios we conjured as we pondered its implications:
What made no sense was the inclusion of such a system in the ADA transportation regulations. I couldn't believe it existed. After consulting the voluminous September 6 Federal Register, I found on page 45,755, Appendix D, the following:
"Some transit properties have used colored mitts or numbered cards to allow passengers to inform drivers of what route they wanted to use. The idea is to prevent at a stop where vehicles from a number of routes arrive a person with a visual impairment from having to ask every driver whether the bus is the right one."
Feeling somewhat panicky, I called the National Center for the Blind concerning this problem. President Maurer's response was simple: "What's wrong with the old system, where a bus pulled up, the driver opened the door, and I asked what bus is this?" Jim Gashel had an equally acrid response: "The first bus that passes me by because I don't have a numbered card will lead to the fastest protest they've ever seen."
After these comments, and with Sharon Gold's backing, Eric approached the Bakersfield transit director once again. Our message was simple: The public transportation regulations were established to have the system accommodate us, not have us accommodate the system. The Bakersfield public transportation manager remained adamant in his commitment to numbered cards. At this point Sharon did some persuasive telephoning, and the idea was officially abandoned.
In the ADA transportation regulations, the suggested use of numbered mitts or cards is made as a suggestion of one strategy to help accommodate blind people. However, the Bakersfield administrator, looking for a solution to what is really a nonexistent problem, accepted this suggestion without seeing its implications. We persuaded him to abandon this effort before he put the scheme into operation. Had he persisted, we would have invoked that section of the ADA insisted on by this organization, which permits us to refuse this or any other invidious form of accommodation. Section D, 501, of the Americans with Disabilities Act states:
"Accommodations and Services. Nothing in this act shall be construed to require an individual with a disability to accept an accommodation, aid, opportunity, service, or benefit which such individual chooses not to accept."
I would like to note that the Bakersfield Transit Company mentioned in this article is Golden Empire Transit and the administrator I talked to was Chester Molland. So far as I know there has been no further mention of blind people being required to cary these numbered cards.
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