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Transportation and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): Q&A

Q. What rights are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities. Among other rights, the ADA guarantees individuals with disabilities equal access to transportation. As a result, limits on accessibility to transportation for disabled individuals must be removed if it's reasonable to do so.

Q. Does the ADA have any requirements for public transportation?
ADA Title II applies to public transportation services such as public city buses and rail transit systems, like Amtrak, commuter rails, and subway systems. Public transportation agencies may not discriminate against individuals with disabilities. They must also abide by a number of other ADA requirements, such as providing disability access in new vehicles, make a reasonable attempt to purchase used buses with disability access, and make proper repairs to buses so they're handicap accessible.

In addition, the ADA requires public transportation agencies to provide paratransit services. Typically, this is a van transportation service where individuals who are unable to use public transportation due to a physical or mental impairment are picked up and dropped off at their destinations. The paratransit service must be comparable to the city's fixed bus system regarding routes and availability. However, if a paratransit service places a significant burden on local government's resources, the government may have the option to discontinue the service. In most cases, the local government's burden isn't strong enough to discontinue paratransit service.

Q. Are there any ADA requirements for private transportation?
The ADA's Title III provision requires private transportation businesses to provide readily accessible vehicles for individuals with disabilities. Private transportation services include airport shuttles, hotel shuttles, private buses, and taxis. In addition, Title III requires these services to provide readily accessible facilities, such as private bus stops and depots.

Q. Are there any ADA requirements for air transportation?
The ADA doesn't regulate air travel discrimination. However, the Air Carrier Access Act does. Under the Air Carrier Access Act, domestic and foreign passenger airlines are prohibited to discriminate against people with mental or physical disabilities. The Act only covers passenger airlines that are open to the public. For example, a passenger airline such as Southwest must provide wheelchair access on its planes. However, FedEx, a shipping company, isn't required to do so on its planes.

Q. What are some of the ADA's specific requirements for public transit vehicles?
A. In complying with the ADA's requirements, the U.S. Department of Transportation has issued minimum guidelines for accessibility on public transit vehicles. Some important vehicle regulations in assisting Americans with disabilities are:

  • Platform barriers to prevent wheelchairs from rolling off
  • Strong and large handrails
  • Vehicle ramps or bridge plates
  • Lift equipment to load wheelchairs
  • Priority seating for the disabled
  • Proper and clear doorways and pathways in subways
  • Proper lighting on ramps and doorways

In addition, all transportation personnel should be properly trained in operating accessibility equipment safely and assisting individuals with disabilities with courtesy and respect.

Q. Do sidewalks have to comply with the ADA?
Many individuals with disabilities use wheelchairs or walking aids. In compliance with the ADA, the U.S. Department of Transportation has issued regulations for sidewalks and crosswalks. Some significant regulations include:

  • Wide sidewalks
  • Ramps leading in to crosswalks
  • Pedestrian control signals low enough to be accessible by wheelchair users
  • Increased crossing times to accommodate people with disabilities
  • Driveway crossings designed to accommodate the movements of individuals with disabilities
Next Steps
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