Yesterday, two people from VPG Autos, the manufacturer of the MV-1 of Indianapolis, visited Access Living for a meeting with Access Living staff. The MV-1 is a wheelchair accessible vehicle that is environmentally CNG friendly and that surpasses vehicle guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Each vehicle is designed based upon input from wheelchair users. In the meeting at Access Living, the group strategized ways to increase the number of accessible vehicles in Chicago’s taxi fleet.
Here is a photo of Madonna Long in Washington D.C.
Under a new ordinance that covers taxis, Chicago will soon be required to purchase 3,000 new vehicles for the taxi fleet. Considering how difficult it is for people in wheelchairs in Chicago to hail an accessible cab, and considering that more and more people will be impacted by disability as our population ages, it makes sense for Chicago to invest in vehicles that work for everyone, not just able bodied people.
Advocates in other large urban areas around the country are currently organizing to increase their number of accessible cabs. In New York City, the issue has gone to the courts. In December of 2011, a Federal Court Judge ruled that New York City is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act for not providing adequate access to people with disabilities.
Whatever happens with the issue in Chicago, there is definitely a need for more accessible vehicles in Chicago and around the country. What happened after the meeting between Access Living and VPG Autos underscores that terrific need. Madonna Long participated in the meeting. Long is a well known national consultant/consumer advocate who excels at connecting markets with people with disabilities. A former Ms. Wheelchair Nevada and a disability advocate, Long also uses a wheelchair. After the meeting, she needed to find an accessible cab. Knowing that, for many reasons, it would be difficult to hail a cab on Chicago Avenue, an Access Living staffer placed an order with a local company to send an accessible cab. Half an hour later, Madonna was still waiting for the pick up at Access Living. A follow up call to the local company didn’t improve the situation. The company couldn’t estimate when Madonna would be picked up because there were no accessible cabs in the area.
There are thousands of people like Long around the country. Active people with disabilities engaged in their cities and communities who need accessible taxis to get from place to place. A lack of accessible transportation impedes that participation. All of us, whether disabled or not, can tell stories about waiting forever for a cab or being unable to flag down a cab. But for people with disabilities, because of social stigma that causes drivers to pass up wheelchair users, and because of a scarcity of accessible cabs, the stories are often worse. That’s why in Chicago, New York, and cities around the country, communities need to organize in an effort to make more accessible transportation available. Accessible transportation will result in stronger participation and stronger communities, which benefits everyone, not just people with disabilities.
Here is a note from Long: “Working as an advocate and traveling often for my job is a must. I have to have transportation at each city I visit. As a fare paying passenger who tips quite well I need access to taxi cab services like everyone else who hails or calls for service. I also understand the issues dealing taxi cab reforms for accessibility. I work with National Leaders such as NCIL, AAPD , PVA and United Spinal closely on this issue with ACT (Accessible Clean Taxi Coalition www.accessibletaxi.com ) and have participated in testifying in Washington DC and working with other advocates in New York and other cities where this issue is a major problem. When I was in Chicago at Access Living, myself and Mike Carney, CMO for VPG Autos needed to get a cab back to the hotel a mile from Access Livings facility. We had a meeting to make it back to and our accessible cab did not show up, so I had to unsafely transfer in a sedan taxi where the door does not open wide enough to make the transfer. To me this should not happen as I learned from my cab driver who drives one of the MV1s said that a competitor company who have most of the accessible dispatched cabs refuses to pick up anyone other than airport fares. So that is why I did not get picked up. This type of behavior needs to stop with cab companies. If you are issued a cab that is universally accessible then you should pick up everyone. If each new cab coming into the system was 100% accessible to everyone, then this would not have happened to me in Chicago.”