Director of Communications
Last Friday, veteran disability reporter Joe Shapiro of NPR broke the national story that Amtrak sent Access Living an email saying that their new policy on group trips showed it would cost us $25,000 to take out seats to accommodate two wheelchair users on an upcoming group trip to Bloomington-Normal tomorrow, Wednesday January 22. Our request had been made last month, as we notify Amtrak well in advance when we have a number of mobility device users traveling together. This time, we had five chair users in our group of 10.
When we saw the quote of $25,000 for those two seats, we were floored. Our staff tried to ask Amtrak to revise their new policy, but after a few initial exchanges we were no longer getting responses. At this point, Shapiro broke the story, setting off a national viral reaction of shock and disbelief that Amtrak, beloved by many rail users, would do such a thing to customers with disabilities.
That’s not all. Also on Friday, a junior conductor on Amtrak asked a Black woman on an open-seating car to change seats without offering clear justification. That woman happened to be Sherrilyn Ifill, an attorney and the President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. This incident, so close to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, was reminiscent of Rosa Park’s refusal to move to the back of the bus so many years ago. Ms. Ifill took to Twitter to report the incident, but Amtrak officials delayed their response. The matter is not yet settled.
Both stories caught major air time over the weekend. While Ms. Ifill is expected to talk further to Amtrak today about her case, U.S. Senator and disabled veteran Tammy Duckworth joined Access Living in demanding to meet with the CEO of Amtrak, Richard Anderson. As a result of the public pressure, Amtrak officials reached out to Access Living staff to resolve the train seat issues for tomorrow at the regular ticket price of $16.
However, Access Living and Senator Duckworth want Amtrak to revise its national policy on group trips involving customers with mobility devices. Amtrak is working on setting a meeting date with the Senator but has yet to contact Access Living about a meeting or clarified what their policy will be going forward.
People with disabilities deserve to be accommodated, and to be respected as customers, whether we ride individually or as a group. We are very grateful to all our community members and allies who spoke out about #AmtrakAccessNow and the treatment of Ms. Ifill.
Help us push for long-term change at Amtrak by sharing about these stories using the hashtag #AmtrakAccessNow.