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individuals who use wheelchairs; that alterations of existing facilities shall be made in a manner to make the altered portions readily accessible to and useable by individuals with disabilities and that it shall be considered discrimination for a public entity to fail to operate such transportation program or activity in such facilities so that, when viewed in the entirety, it is readily accessible to or usable by individuals with disabilities. There are many inexpensive yet very useful modifications or accommodations that would make transportation facilities such as terminals and stations more "accessible to and useable by" blind people. Among these are better lighting for the use of visually impaired people (as well as members of the general public), clearer and more legible signage for the use of visually impaired people, appropriately placed braille instructions for the use of braille readers (such as on farecard machines and other devices), tactile route maps, appropriately placed tactile markers in clear, contrasting colors and of a suitable material to give directional or location assistance to blind travelers (such as along platform edges, escalators or near fare gates) and greatly improved information systems (by telephone and, or loud speaker). We recognize that some people argue that tactile orientation and mobility markers should not be used for a variety of reasons, but again the reality is that not all blind people have the same degree of mobility skill; that temporary conditions such as construction may temporarily impair a person's mobility skills and that, though we wish it were not true, blind people, the same as sighted people are sometimes less than one hundred percent attentive to conditions around them. In some cities there have been serious accidents involving an unusually high percentage of blind people in rapid rail facilities and studies have been undertaken to determine whether appropriate tactile markers would reduce the risk of such accidents. (See "Solutions for Problems of Visually Impaired Users of Rapid Rail Transit" by U.S. Department of Transportation, Urban Mass Transportation Administration, Report #UMTA-MA-0036-81-1 and "Tactile Warnings to Promote Safety in the vicinity of Transit Platform Edges" by U.S. Department of Transportation, Urban Mass Transportation Administration, Report #UMTA-MA-06-0121-87-1, December 1987, Final Report.) Since the selection of inappropriate materials and the improper placement of such markers could make such markers useless or perhaps dangerous and since there is the widespread belief by most blind people that such markers could be helpful, we believe that, pursuant to Title V of the ADA, the Architectural and Transporta- tion Barriers Compliance Board should study this matter carefully and
objectively before issuing minimum guidelines and requirements for accessible design for purposes of Title II and III.
We shall be pleased to consult with members of this subcommittee and members of its staff concerning any of the matters discussed herein. Thank you again for this opportunity to present our testimony.
Mr. MINETA. I would now like to call forward Mr. James Gashel, Director of Governmental Affairs, National Federation of the blind. Mr. Gashel, your statement will be made a part of the record, so go ahead and summarize your testimony, if you would do so. Thank you.
TESTIMONY OF JAMES GASHEL, DIRECTOR OF GOVERNMENTAL
AFFAIRS, NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND Mr. GASHEL. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. You can be sure of a summary at this hour. Let me say that with regard to patience, I think we should all commend you for yours, not that it is not your responsibility, because it is. But I think that this hearing has given all of us an opportunity both to learn more about the Americans With Disabilities Act and learn more about the reality of some of the issues that have to be confronted in this bill.
I really want to commend you for having such a full-blown hearing on this. Thank you very much for that.
Let me just say, concerning something that you can't do anything about, but I need to correct the record on this; Mr. Miller referred to the fact that he represents the largest organization of blind people, I guess, in the U.S. or the world or something like that. I am not sure which. But, anyway, as he knows and my colleagues who are with me here at this hearing know, that simply is not the truth. Mr. Miller will just have to allow his views on it tolet's put it this way, to deal with his own conscience on the subject.
The National Federation of the Blind, in fact, has a membership of over 50,000 blind persons in this country and is the largest organized group of blind transit consumers. For fifty years, the federation has had a history of dealing with civil rights laws and civil rights issues in the area of disability. Jacobus Tenbroek, a distinguished blind law professor at the University of California was the founder of the National Federation of the Blind and the first leader of the organized blind movement in this country.
He authored a model state law-California was one of the first states to enact it—and that law is on the statute books now almost everywhere. It declares forthrightly the following: the blind, the visually-impaired, and the otherwise physically-disabled shall have the right to full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of all common carriers, airplanes, motor vehicles, railroad trains, motor buses, street cars, boats, or any other public conveyances or modes of transportation, hotels, lodging places, places of public accommodation, amusement, or resort and other places to which the general public is invited subject only to the conditions and limitations established by law and applicable, alike, to all persons.
That sets, I think, a very clear standard. It is a standard that is working very well for us. The non-discrimination standard in this model state statute calls for equal access and equal rights, regardless of blindness or of disability.
The Americans With Disabilities Act, on the other hand, calls for a standard which would comply with the regulations issued under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The non-discrimination under Section 504 is, really, quite a bit different from the Model White Cane Law standard.
The Model White Cane Law talks about equal participation. Section 504 talks about accommodated participation. There is a significant difference in ways that I will describe. First, this background. Paternalism is the most common form of discrimination against blind people. People presume that we cannot do things because we can't see to do them. Accommodation, or in other words creating ways for us to participate, then becomes the reflex response.
But accommodation may be discriminatory. In my written statement, I have some examples. It goes to the question which you were just putting to Mr. Miller. One example is offering a wheelchair to a blind person when the person is traveling through a public facility. It happens to us a lot at airports. I know you used to be chairman of the Aviation Subcommittee, so I had to mention that.
You know, if a blind person rejects the offered wheelchair, the rejection is, often, then, very much resented and the blind person is seen as ungrateful for refusing the offer. Situations such as this inevitably lead to confrontations with the expressed expectation that the blind ought to be happy if someone does something for them.
What starts as an accommodation can soon become discrimination, especially when the accommodation is then required. That happens.
Another example is insistence that a blind person be seated at the front of a public bus because the seats at the front of the bus are supposed to be designated for the elderly and handicapped, another federal regulation. In either example, the blind person who can walk and move as well as anyone else is made to appear as limited, more limited than the person really is. The person may have access to the building or the bus, but the access is certainly on discriminatory terms for that blind individual or for blind individuals as a class, for that matter.
In the example of the bus, Section 504 already prohibits denying service to the blind person, and so does the Model White Cane Law. But it does not clearly prohibit the bus driver from insisting that the blind person sit in one of the front seats on the bus which are designated for the elderly and handicapped. This is an ambiguity.
Some may regard seating disputes as quibbling, but let me tell you that the entire civil rights movement was brought to a national focus in this country because of exactly this type of dispute. By the way, I have a friend who died a few years ago, but he was black and blind and he said he fought his way in the 1960's from the back of the bus to the front of the bus and he would be darned-actually, he didn't say darned-but he would have problems if he now had to turn around and fight his way to the back of the bus.
The Americans With Disabilities Act will require disabled persons to be accommodated on the bus. If blind persons who are capable of sitting anywhere they want to on the bus are forced to accept the accommodation of using the seats designated for the elderly and handicapped, they will be subjected to arbitrary and unreasonable restrictions, restrictions which should not be applied.
Language is needed in the Americans With Disabilities Act to prevent the use of unintended restrictions based on disability in the name of compliance with the act.
This is a lesson which we should have learned from enactment of the Air Carrier Access Act, not to bring up a sore subject or anything. But, you know, this experience tells us that unintended restrictions, things that we never thought would have come about, based on disability, can easily and unexpectedly evolve from a law which you had a lot to do with. That law was forthrightly aimed at prohibiting discrimination. But it hasn't worked that way.
The audible traffic signal is another example of how an accommodation can become discriminatory. The sound made by the signal is a beeping or an electronic chirping noise which is intended to imitate a bird call. That is one of the common forms of the signal. The accommodation has been promoted by persons who assume that blind people will not know when or where to cross the street if they are not given some special audible cue.
But rather than being a form of assistance to blind people, this adaptation falsely presumes that blindness is an impairment to street crossing. It is not, I assure you. The fact is that blind people cross streets by themselves every day. We have been doing so without audible traffic signals and we have been doing it since cars, street crossings, blind people, and traffic lights were invented.
The sound of the traffic and the direction of its flow give us plenty of information. An audible traffic signal adds nothing, and many blind people say that it only confuses them to have the additional sounds.
Most significantly, this modification implies that blind people cannot cross ordinary streets. In this respect, it is a damaging and false public statement that the blind are disabled in ways that we are not.
So-called accommodations such as these come before us in an almost endless stream. Some of the cities in California-and you may have seen this, Mr. Chairman-have the big idea, now, of placing surface coverings called pathfinder tiles at some street intersections. They are doing it quite a bit in Sacramento and some of the other cities out there. Some of these pathfinder tiles even run across the street. The idea is that they are supposed to guide the blind across the street-never mind, you may not want to cross the street, by the way, and then there isn't a guide that just goes somewhere else.
Along a similar line, a college professor in New Mexico thought up the idea and got a federal grant to develop this—to create a cane which would follow an electronic field, provided, of course, that all of the very highly expensive and technical equipment is installed and that it is operating correctly.
Can you imagine the cost to the taxpayers if modifications such as beeping traffic lights, pathfinder tiles and electronic fields become in vogue as the result of the Americans With Disabilities Act? This could happen.
Beyond the needless expense involved in doing this, it is harmful when accommodations are made that falsely imply limitations caused by blindness. Opportunities necessarily depend on public