We marvel at new inventions and gadgets for people with disabilities, like all-terrain transports and powered exoskeletons, advanced prostheses and transforming bed-wheelchairs. For engineers and inventors, solving the problem of disability is mostly a matter of mathematics, and wheelchair user Jose Solis knows there’s a solution to his public transportation problem.
Solis, who uses a motorized wheelchair to get around, said that a simple trip on a public bus is a matter of physics for people with disabilities. The slopes, angles and approaches that are involved can actually result in serious injury.
He mentioned his own issue—as a result of a bad angle on a ramp, he fell over on his back. And this sort of issue is not isolated—it happens far more often than it should. Solis’ incident, fortunately, was minor. “I hit my head,” he says, “and it’s a little bit bump, a little bump.”
Retractable ramps on buses are designed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and though most meet the standard of no more than 8 degrees on a slope, accidents still happen. The problem, it turns out, is the bus stops and not the buses. Bus stops are not built to accommodate the ADA ramps, and the curbs result in steeper angles than should be allowed, making it dangerous for wheelchair users.
Jim Lawson, who suffers with multiple sclerosis, said, “What I see are barriers for me and not for anybody else.” After getting stuck in a ditch while three able-bodied people sat waiting for the next bus, he commented, “From this point, I can’t even get there.”
Lawson goes on to explain why the problem needs to be fixed. “It can cause traumatic injury to someone who is already in unstable medical condition.”
Lawson has filed a complaint against the Texas Department of Transportation regarding this lack of accessibility, and while the Texas DOT acknowledges the issue, they claim that funding and planning issues are keeping them from solving the problem any time soon. “Maybe next year,” said Texas DOT spokeswoman, Laura Lopez.
Next year will be five years after Lawson’s complaint was filed.
“There needs to be a pad for the bus to deploy its ramp at the bus stop, and that’s an integral part of the bus stop,” Lawson said. “It keeps people from wanting to get out and be productive and part of the community, and that’s what the ADA is supposed to be all about.”
Texas DOT promises that the stops will be retrofitted, and the cost will be more than $200,000. Meanwhile, the ADA requires operators and drivers of public transit vehicles to physically assist people who use wheelchairs if help is requested. The VIA, the local transit authority, promises that drivers will be instructed to offer better assistance in the future. Watch the news story. What hazards, if any, have you experienced on public transportation?