Toward Universal Access is part of our research report series examining the FTA Sandbox Program in the Los Angeles and Puget Sound Regions. Click here to access the other research reports and learn more about the program. 

Approximately 61 million U.S. adults—one quarter of the adult population—live with some form of disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other laws, regulations, and guidance aim to protect the rights of people with disabilities, prohibit discrimination based on disability, and provide equal access to opportunity. As a civil rights law that applies to both public and private transportation providers, the ADA aims to ensure equal access to mobility for disabled persons.

Although each disability is unique, and many are unaccounted for or underreported in various contexts, one of the most common forms of functional disability is mobility impairment (e.g., difficulty walking or climbing stairs), which affects approximately 13.7 percent of adults in the United States. Disabilities are particularly common in certain demographic groups, including adults over 65, women, and non-Hispanic American Indians and Alaskan Natives, with at least 20 percent of each of these groups experiencing some form of disability.

The requirements of the ADA apply to all transportation services whether or not they receive federal funding. But they do vary depending on what transportation mode(s) are involved, whether or not paratransit is available in the service area, and other specificities of the program. Like all transportation programs, the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) MOD Sandbox programs must adhere to the ADA. But the case studies described in this report are pilot projects, and therefore are not required to comply with all regulations that typically govern regular, long-term public transit service. The MOD services in the Los Angeles and Puget Sound regions operate in areas that are also served by paratransit, which legally covers the ADA requirement for complementary paratransit when fixed route service is provided. But the existing paratransit does not provide the same level of on-demand access, and a goal of the pilot in both regions is to provide equitable service to all users.

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