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Through these and other activities, the Access Board has become a national resource and center of expertise on accessibility for persons with disabilities.
The Access Board, along with the President and the rest of the Administration, wholeheartedly support the broad goals of the Americans With Disabilities Act. This legislation would extend basic civil rights guarantees to over 36 million Americans With Disabilities and eliminate discriminatory barriers in public accommodations, places of employment, public transportation, and in communications. The legislation would significantly promote inde pendence, freedom of choice, and productive involvement in the social and economic mainstream for our Nation's disabled citizens.
Through conducting public forums around the country and spon. soring research projects and studies, the Access Board has gathered extensive experience and information about the extent and effects of discriminatory barriers experienced by persons with disabilities in public accommodations and public transportation.
The Access Board has carefully analyzed the provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act and believes that the act's provisions provide a comprehensive and cost-effective solution to removing these barriers.
În the area of public transportation, the Americans With Disabilities Act would require that all new buses, rail vehicles, and other fixed-route vehicles which are purchased 30 days after the enactment of the act be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, including those who use wheelchairs.
In the case of the rail systems, within 5 years, at least one car per train would be required to be accessible to individuals with disabilities, including those who use wheelchairs. Stations on intercity rail systems, including Amtrak, would have to be made accessible within 20 years.
Key stations on commuter rail systems would have to be made accessible within three years, with the Secretary of Transportation being authorized to extend the period up to 20 years for extraordinarily expensive structural changes.
In addition, the Americans With Disabilities Act would require providers of fixed-route bus service to ensure the provision of paratransit service to individuals who could not use the fixed-route buses. The Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources' report on S. 933 makes it clear that the operator of such bus service need not necessarily provide the paratransit service directly, but is responsible for ensuring that existing services or paratransit provided by other entities are coordinated with the service provided by the operator, especially to ensure that both fixed-route and paratransit systems provide feeder-distributor service to commuter and intercity rail.
It is our understanding that the requirement to provide comparable paratransit to those who cannot use fixed-route bus service was never intended to require providers of commuter of intercity rail service to operate paratransit.
The Access Board would be required to supplement its minimum guidelines and requirements for accessible design to include accessibility standards for transit vehicles and stations, as well as public accommodations.
In particular, the supplemental minimum guidelines would define the accessibility requirements for various types of rail vehicles and station configurations. It is our understanding that Amtrak has already met the requirement to have one accessible car per train, and the accessibility provided by those cars is generally adequate.
The California Department of Transportation (CALTRANS), has also sponsored a study on providing access to some types of commuter rail cars which may be useful in developing minimum guidelines. Also, in cooperation with CALTRANS, Amtrak is currently using an inexpensive, mechanically simple and reliable, hand-operated lift in California which may solve the access problems for many intercity and commuter rail stations.
The Access Board is in regular contact with CALTRANS and other agencies involved in such studies and believes the diversity of information will make compliance with the act for commuter and intercity rail relatively simple.
The act provides that regulations issued by the Department of Transportation and Attorney General under the act would have to be consistent with these standards. The Department of Transportation and the Department of Justice are members of the Access Board and have enjoyed good working relationships with the other Federal agency and public citizen members of the board.
We look forward to continuing this close relationship in the days and months after the Americans With Disabilities Act is enacted in developing accessibility guidelines and standards for public transportation and public accommodations.
As you are aware, the public transit industry has expressed some technical and financial concerns about the act's provisions. To accommodate those concerns, some amendments have been incorporated into the Senate-passed version of the act. We would especially recommend to you the technical assistance provision that was put in the act.
The provision would require the Attorney General, in consultation with the Access Board and certain other Federal agencies, to develop a plan to assist entities covered by the act to understand their responsibilities under the act, and to provide information and technical assistance on cost-effective means for achieving compliance with the act.
The Access Board currently has an extensive technical assistance program and believes that a strengthened technical assistance program is important to help public agencies and private businesses to fully understand the responsibilities under the act and achieve compliance.
The Access Board and other agencies have developed long and varied experience in cost-effective approaches for applying the principles of "readily accessible," "readily achievable," and "reasonable accommodation" which are embodied in the act.
By making this expertise available to all who must comply with the act, we can hasten implementation; prevent unnecessary litigation; and most importantly, avoid unnecessary costs to those entities covered by the act. We strongly urge this committee and the House to include a technical assistance provision in the act.
The Access Board looks forward to working with Congress, the Administration, and other Federal agencies in crafting and implementing a workable law that will ensure the full protection and guarantees of civil rights and an accessible environment for Americans With Disabilities.
We would be happy to answer any questions you have, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. LUKEN. Thank you very much, Mr. Roffe.
Next Mr. Phil Calkins, President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities.
STATEMENT OF PHILIP CALKINS Mr. CALKINS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am Philip Calkins. I am director of public affairs for the Employment of People with Disabilities. I am also a wheelchair user and a consumer and avid supporter of public transportation, including Amtrak. I thank you for this opportunity so share my experience with and thoughts about accessible public transportation with you.
Mr. LUKEN. Without objection, your written testimony will be received. You may proceed in any way you think will be helpful.
Mr. CALKINS. Thank you.
I believe that a good public transportation system is absolutely essential for the good of our society, and that inadequate public transportation systems will cause increasing problems for all of us in the coming years. I also prefer to use public transportation rather than drive to work. Fortunately, I work in Washington, DC, which has a very good and very accessible metro rail system, which I use to get to and from work every day.
Last year, I bought a house in Vienna, VA. An essential element in my decision to buy that particular house was that it is close enough to the Vienna Metro station so that I can take the train to my office at 20th and L Streets in the District of Columbia. I know three other people personally who use wheelchairs, commute from Vienna to downtown Washington, and made the choice of where to live on the basis of access to Metro. If I know three, there must be many more-just in Vienna.
I adhere that if I had known last year that I was going to be testifying today in this committee, I would have both a house in Maryland on the Amtrak line for the same reasons so that I would have been able to talk about a house that was under the jurisdiction of your committee.
I am absolutely sure that the same thing is true of the Amtrak commuter line in Maryland as the example I am giving for Vienna, VA. I also use Metro on a regular basis to do my job. I am expected to attend meetings on Capitol Hill and elsewhere in Washington on a regular basis. If it weren't for the accessible Metro system, I would have to take taxis to all of those meetings, at considerable additional expense to taxpayers. If I were an electric wheelchair user and consequently could not use regular taxis, I could not do my job without the Metro system.
You may ask, “What about paratransit? Couldn't someone who uses an electric wheelchair use paratransit to go from his or her office to meetings around the city?" The answer is no. Paratransit systems, because of their advance notice requirements, do not permit that flexibility.
Dennis Cannon, who works for the ATBCB and is here today, could not do his job efficiently without the accessible Metro system. Evan Kemp, also a user of an electric wheelchair, is soon to become chairman of the EEOC, depends on the Metro system for efficient transportation within the city.
If I may add a comment in relation to advance notice on Amtrak. Dennis, Evan Kemp, and I all use Amtrak from here to New York in work-related travel. My boss, Jay Rockman, is sitting right over there. He gets requests for people that can go to New York to make speeches, to go to meetings, and so forth all of the time.
Suppose for a minute he gets a request this afternoon for someone to be in a meeting in New York either this evening or tomorrow, which is not at all inconceivable, and he decides that I am the person who should go to that meeting.
Fortunately for me, Jay is a good guy and I don't think I would lose my job if I couldn't get on the Amtrak and go to New York. But it certainly would impair my usefulness to the President's Committee if Jay could not make the decision to send me to that meeting, which would of course require me to hustle down to Union Station, get on the train and go to the meeting.
If an advanced notice requirement of 12 hours is required, he can't do that. I, in my personal use of Amtrak, which includes three different routes, have never found that an advance notice requirement did anything. Sometimes I have told them in advance. Sometimes I have not told them. I have always gotten on the train.
What do these examples say about us as wheelchair users? I think that they demonstrate that we are just like everybody else. We have the same transportation needs, and make the same transportation choices, when they are available to us. I chose to live in Vienna because I can use the Metro to get to work from there.
Now, I wish I lived in Maryland, so I could use the Amtrak. Other people, disabled and able-bodied, make exactly the same choice. When a new metro line or a new computer line goes in, people move to that area so they can use it.
Some members of this committee may have been told that those of us who are mobility-impaired are less likely than are other people to use the Metro system or commuter rail system because we can't get to the stations. I doubt that anyone can prove that contention, because it is a difficult thing to study, and to the best of my knowledge, never has been studied in any reasonable way.
In any case, my personal experience indicates otherwise. Every morning when I go through the Metro parking lot at Vienna, all of the handicapped spaces are occupied by cars with the appropriate plates indicating that the drives are disabled. Other wheelchair commuters wheel to the station, as I do, or arrive by bus.
We're just like everybody else. If we want to use the accessible metro, we will figure out a way to do it. And, yes, we get wet when it rains, just like everybody else. That is appropriate. Metro is not obliged to treat us better than other passengers. We don't expect it. I personally don't want it. I just want equal access and equal treatment.
Mr. Chairman, I have been attending as many hearings on the ADA as possible, and I have participated in scores of meetings on this bill over the last several months. One thing that concerns me about the discussions that I have heard is that there has been considerable emphasis on the specific costs to specific providers of services and very little discussion of the potential long-range cost savings to the taxpayers of this country.
I realize that one reason for this disparity of emphasis is that it is much easier to obtain current cost data about equipment, for example, than it is to project potential cost savings on the basis of the anticipated employment of many of the 8 million Americans With Disabilities who are currently unemployed but who want to work. We at the President's Committee have found that, second only to attitudinal barriers, lack of access to public transportation is the greatest impediment to employment of Americans With Disabilities.
I hope that our concentration on the trees will not prevent us from seeing the forest. Last week, my chairman, Justin Dart, testified before another committee that his congressional task force estimates that the unnecessary unemployment of those 8 million people with disabilities costs our society more than 246 billion dollars annually.
Chairman Dart added that President Bush has used the figure of 300 billion annually. Those are very large figures, Mr. Chairmanperhaps so large that we have difficulty comparing them with the much smaller figures that we discuss when we talk about the cost of making a train or a bus accessible.
I understand that a particular concern of this committee is the cost of funding accessibility for Amtrak. I am not an expert on Amtrak, but I do find this concern a little bit confusing. My confusion has been somewhat lessened by the earlier testimony here today which confirms what we had understood to be the case, that Amtrak is already obliged to make its system accessible under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
I think I will leave it up to the lawyers to determine what effect the passage of ADA in its current form might have on the obligation under section 504, but it seems clear to me that an obligation exists even without ADA.
Finally, even though I know that a discussion of costs is inevitable, I would hope that members of this committee will keep in mind that the Americans With Disabilities Act is intended as a civil rights statute. As my chairman, Justin Dart, said last week: "Is equality affordable in America? Not since the abolition of slavery has equality been negotiable for money in this country. Thank you. Mr. LUKEN. Mr. Tim Cook.
Your organization is called the National Disability Action Center.
STATEMENT OF TIM COOK Mr. Cook. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. LUKEN. Perhaps you will start out by telling us what that entity is.