Many cities support their own systems of public transportation. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), by July 27, 1995, at least one car per train must be accessible. Furthermore, all orders for new buses must be for accessible vehicles. This might mean that buses or vans be equipped with lifts or that by calling in advance, a lift-equipped bus could be ordered. Finally, a paratransit (door-to-door service) must be available.
It would be impossible to describe the many small systems in Massachusetts in this manual; the MBTA, the most extensive system that serves Boston and surrounding communities, will be described. In addition, the PVTA system, which serves Springfield and the surrounding rural area will be introduced. Contact the local city/town hall to ask about public transportation in the area.
Public transportation services also affected by the ADA include buses
such as Greyhound, trains such as Amtrak, and airlines. These will not
be discussed here. Contact The Department of Transportation, 400 Seventh
Street SW, Washington, DC 20590 (202) 366-9305 (voice) or (202) 755-7687
(TTY) for further information on transportation access issues.
Office for Transportation Access
Ten Boylston Place
Boston, MA 02116
People with disabilities and individuals 65 or older receive discounts.
Contact the Office for Transportation Access for more information.
Customer Service and Travel Information: (617) 722-3200; (800) 392-6100;
(617) 722-5146 (TTY)
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) operates public transportation in and around the city of Boston. This service consists of:
There are currently 42 MBTA bus routes on which at least every third bus is a lift-equipped bus. If one of these matches your location and schedule, you will be set. However, it is also possible to request a lift-equipped bus on any route at any time. You can order lift-equipped buses either as a one-time mode of transportation, or if you need a more regular schedule (e.g., you must take the 8:00 bus to reach work on time and return on the 5:00), you can have the MBTA schedule bus at a certain time every day. You must request a lift-equipped bus by 1:00 p.m., one day in advance. For more information or to schedule a bus call (800) LIFT-BUS (543-8287). For a schedule of fixed-route lift-equipped buses call the Office for Transportation Access.
The rapid transit system (subway) and the streetcars in and around Boston are commonly known as the "T." Access to the T can be very complicated as different lines have access at different levels. A map of the T system marking the fully accessible stations can be picked up at almost any T station or can be ordered by calling the Office for Transportation Access. Although all the intricacies of access cannot be described here, some general rules do apply.
The Green Line consists of streetcars that run both underground and on the street. These cars are not currently accessible as they have three steps to enter the car, but new cars are on order. Some of the stations have elevators (see scenario below). Plans for making the Green Line accessible are currently underway. The Orange, Red and Blue lines run more like subways with the access from the platform to the train relatively flat (except parts of the Red Line, which runs more like streetcars); however, many of the stations do not have elevators or ramps. Plans are currently underway to make all stations accessible.
To find out about stations that are fully accessible, order the map mentioned above. For questions about a specific station, call the Office for Transportation Access. Always check with multiple sources regarding the accessibility of any one station. To find out about elevators that are out of service call the Elevator Update Line at (617) 451-0027.
The Commuter Rail
The commuter rail serves communities that are a bit farther away from Boston. It is an actual train (versus the T system, which is made up of subways and streetcars) and its stops tend to be further apart. Some of the commuter rail stations are accessible; however, many are not. Although the MBTA is working to increase the accessibility of its commuter rail stations (as well as improve some existing "accessible" stations), change is slow.
As an alternative to inaccessible stations, the RIDE's area now covers all localities served by the MBTA, including commuter rail areas.
The RIDE is the MBTA's paratransit service. It provides door-to-door transportation, when given advance notice, to individuals with disabilities who are unable to use general public transportation. Lift-equipped vans and, where available, taxis or sedans, contracted through a variety of service providers, pick up individuals from their homes and take them to their desired location within the MBTA's service area. If using the RIDE, one can expect to travel with other passengers who are taking similar routes at similar times. The RIDE operates during hours similar to other modes of public transportation.
All RIDE drivers receive operational, sensitivity, CPR, and first aid training. They will provide assistance over the curb and up or down one step as well as into and out of vehicles. Additionally, they will assist with a limited number of bags/pieces of luggage.
To be eligible for the RIDE, an individual must have a disability that
prevents him/her from using the general public transportation. For example,
the individual must be unable to walk, see, use stairs/escalators, stand
in moving vehicles, or have difficulty doing so. He/she must also complete
an application that can be requested by calling (617) 722-5123 (voice)
or (617) 722-5415 (TTY). The application form includes a physician's assessment,
which must be completed to determine eligibility.
Fred was a 25-year-old college student who loved a good challenge. Fred used a wheelchair and, as he lived on the inaccessible Green Line, either had to figure out a way to ride on it with his friends, or be relegated to less spontaneous (the RIDE) or more expensive (taxis) modes of transportation. He chose to ride the T.
He would typically be with one or two friends who would lift him onto the T themselves or ask other riders to assist him. Often the driver would even come out and help. Usually he and his friends would get off at one of the downtown stations that had an escalator and they would assist him in riding up in his chair. However, some escalators were too narrow and they would carry him up the stairs instead.
Once, he and a friend got off the T at a station with no elevator or escalator. They had planned to find another strong-looking passenger and ask him/her to assist them up the stairs. However, when they arrived at the station, they found that the turnstiles were too narrow for Fred's wheelchair to fit. There was a gate that could be opened by the token seller, but it was chained and locked shut.
Fred asked the token operator to open the gate, but she did not have the key. After discussing possible solutions with her for a few minutes, she had two basic responses. The first was, "You shouldn't be here anyway." And the second was, "Go back to where you came from. You can't go out here." Not a very helpful attitude. Luckily, Fred was able to take command and when he saw he was getting nowhere with this employee, he called the T information line and was able to get through to someone who could come and unlock the gate. However, the wait was to be 45 minutes so that plan was scrapped and Fred asked a large group of youths to assist him over the turnstile and out of the station.
The experience left Fred and his friend feeling quite positive about the helpfulness of strangers but reminded them that there are still people who are insensitive to the needs of individuals with disabilities. The MBTA offers disability awareness training to all its employees and while much progress has been made, there is a need for ongoing training. Anyone planning to use public transportation should be prepared to deal with this type of situation and to take command to get the results one needs.
Pioneer Valley Transit Authority
1500 Main Street, Baystate West
Springfield, MA 01115
PVTA ADA Transportation Department (413) 734-1040
PVTA Bus Information Center (413) 781-7882
Medicaid Transportation (medical appointments only) (413) 731-7571
The PVTA serves Springfield and the surrounding communities. This service consists of
There are currently 47 bus routes with only a few of the buses being
lift-equipped, although as old buses are replaced, this number will increase.
In the event that the route you need is not yet running with a lift-equipped
bus, you may be eligible for paratransit service. Contact the PVTA ADA
Transportation Department for more information. The PVTA's route schedule
indicates which routes and trips are currently running with lift-equipped
buses. It is important to note that the PVTA gives out transfer slips as
you board the bus (ask at the fare box) in cases when you must make a transfer
in order to reach your final destination.
The PVTA provides door-to-door accessible van service to eligible disabled
and/or elderly individuals throughout its 23 member communities. To access
the program you need to complete an application process that includes a
physician's assessment. Applications are available at local human service
agencies, PVTA's Information Center, or by mail. The pass is valid for
five years and may enable a user to travel at a reduced fare. The PVTA
also maintains a listing of van operators who do not contract with them
but do provide transportation services.
Many smaller communities have some form of public transportation. Contact your local town/city hall for information.
To get a driver's permit, one must be 16 years or older with original proof of age (no photocopies accepted) in the form of a birth certificate, baptismal record, school certification, passport, or other approved official document. One must also pass a written examination. With a permit, an individual is allowed to drive a motor vehicle while another licensed adult (over age 18) is in the car.
At age 16.5 years, an individual may apply for a license if he/she successfully completed a certified Driver Education course, otherwise the age of eligibility is 17. In order to get a license, one needs to take a driving test (and a written test if none has been taken previously). Applications for permits and licenses can be requested from the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) and must be presented to the registry on the day of the examination.
If one is not able or does not choose to drive a car, but needs an alternative photo identification (e.g., for getting into nightclubs and bars or applying for a department store credit card) one can get a Massachusetts Identification Card from the RMV.
Detailed instructions for the process are contained in an instruction
manual, which can be requested from any of the 25 RMV locations in Massachusetts.
To find the RMV nearest you, look in the phone book (white or blue pages)
under "Massachusetts, Commonwealth of, Registry of Motor Vehicles." Otherwise
write to RMV, 1135 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02120-2103.
It is now possible to receive some basic services from the Registry
of Motor Vehicles at certain mall locations! "License Express" is equipped
to renew your driver's license, take return car plates,
Coming soon --
ATM machines that will provide similar services!
There are no classes given at the RMV. Local high schools often offer classes in driver's education and a number of private driving schools offer lessons (look under "Driving Instruction" in the yellow pages). The RMV's "Driver's License Manual" does answer many common questions but is not recommended as the only source of study for a permit or license. For more information contact the educational liaison at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, Boston, (617) 351-4500.
The following information is excerpted from the Driver's License Manual (available through your local registry of motor vehicles).
A person with a physical or mental disability:
Many individuals can drive a regular motor vehicle if a few modifications are made. There are almost as many types of modifications as there are people who need them. Some can be highly individualized while others are those everyday devices that any driver might use. The concerns discussed here will include:
Many cars now have standard features that were once highly specialized. For example, automatic mirrors and electronic seat controls are seen much more today than five years ago. When looking for a car, keep in mind that some features may make life much easier. Ask to see less expensive models of a specific car, but also ask to look at some of the higher-end features. Sometimes paying a little more money up front can make up for the extra cost by needing fewer modifications after purchase.
Additionally, salespeople in a car accessory store can assist an individual to find the devices he/she needs in order to be able to drive safely and effectively. For example, larger rear view and side mirrors may be all that is needed for an individual who has difficulty turning his/her head. These can be found in any car accessory store. Because these devices are less specialized and are available for general use, they tend to be less expensive and easier to find. To find a car accessory store look under "Automobile Supplies" in the local yellow pages.
Some individuals may need one of the more specialized assistive devices in order to be able to drive. These types of devices may include hand controls for the gas and brakes; the relocation of switches for things such as lights, windshield wipers and climate controls; specialized seats and steering wheels; and lifts. There are a variety of things to consider when thinking about any option. For example, if an individual uses a wheelchair: Is he/she able to transfer into a regular car seat? Will he/she need a specialized seat? Will he/she remain in the wheelchair while driving? Likewise, if he/she uses any specialized equipment for mobility (e.g., wheelchair, walker, crutches) does he/she want to store them in the trunk, behind him/her in the car, or next to him/her in the car? Look in Appendix I under Motor Vehicle Adaptation for resources which are familiar with a wide variety of needs and can assist in figuring out what will work best for an individual.
A fair warning: The first modification purchased may not be perfect. One may need a slightly different style or a different brand. Before investing in a certain brand or style, talk to other people who use the same brand. Ask about its reliability and repair record. Then try it, and if it doesn't work well enough, try a different type the next time. It may take several tries before finding what you want.
It is best to keep your eyes on the automobile market. New and improved vehicles are constantly being developed and often have features that may assist individuals with a variety of disabilities. For example, several American car manufacturers are currently looking at radar sensors that would give visual and/or auditory signals to a driver to indicate the estimated speed of oncoming traffic. This would assist individuals who are making a turn and have difficulty gauging the speed of oncoming traffic.
Please check Appendix I under Motor Vehicle Adaptation for a listing of resources. If the agency in your area no longer adapts vehicles, you may want to:
Offers from people who can drive to those who are unable to drive should not be underestimated. Oftentimes, co-workers are more than willing to pick up another individual who lives in the neighborhood, especially when the cost of gas, parking, and perhaps even insurance, is shared (e.g., a weekly "donation" to the car fund might be an acceptable solution). An individual can ask around at smaller companies. At larger places of employment or when working in a business district, post notices in prominent places. Some employers even offer carpool services as a benefit. Contact the benefits office to find out if they can provide assistance.
Carpooling is often a good way to get to and from recreational and other
activities. Sometimes it is possible to ask another participant for a ride,
or the organization may be willing to offer this option on its membership
form, enabling them to distribute lists of interested carpoolers.
Hiring a Driver
Some individuals may own their own vehicles but are not able to drive them. Several options are available in this case. A colleague or friend may drive the individual's vehicle for him/her. Likewise, if the individual receives personal care assistance, those individuals may be able to drive the vehicle. Most efficient, however, is hiring a personal driver. If one has the means, one may be able to afford one's own driver. Otherwise, sharing drivers with other individuals whose schedules allow may be possible.
"Travel training" is a term typically used when referring to independent travel instruction for individuals with cognitive disabilities.
For example, in the case of an individual with developmental disabilities and no visual impairment, the O/M instructor would look for commonalities with someone who has difficulty seeing. Even if vision is not the source of the difficulty, students may be limited in their ability to remain oriented and to protect themselves from obstacles. The problem may be associated with impulsive movements, diverted attention, lack of organized route planning, or lack of prior effective exposure to the community at large. The O/M instructor would use an evaluation process to identify the problems and work with the special educator to develop an intervention plan that might address the problem. Some school districts have already integrated a community component with their educational opportunities in the form of "Community Awareness" and "Travel Training." During the transition years, O/M services may be directed in school by the special education teacher, or after leaving school by social rehabilitation, vocational rehabilitation, or independent living services.
When considering O/M training, community awareness, or travel training, several areas must be addressed, including:
Presently, to receive O/M services, the individual is typically required to be visually impaired and registered with the Commission for the Blind or the Rehabilitation Commission. The document of legal blindness is submitted by an ophthalmologist and reviewed by a state consultant. In some states provisions are made for students who are visually impaired but not legally blind. The strength of your advocacy for this to occur will depend on documented functional difficulty.
Availability of O/M Services
O/M services are considered a necessary related service for many students with disabilities and can therefore be added to the IEP and/or ITP. While in school, the school system is responsible for funding. Once an individual has left the school system, O/M services are available through the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind and the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission.
Location of Instruction
Orientation and mobility are based on individualized instruction that begins in simple environments and continues to more complex. Some school districts might view O/M as an isolated service that has the simple goal of teaching an individual to travel independently within the school itself. While this may be an initial goal, it will not suffice to meet the transitional needs of the individual toward independence and safety in the community. A complete O/M educational plan will include objectives initially in the school itself but also address objectives in the home neighborhood and community at large with attention to the transportation resources available.
Look in Appendix I under Massachusetts Resources for O/M Instruction