Why Portland Bureau of Transportation Seeks Input from People with Disabilities in ADA Title II Public Right of Way Transition Plan

Published September 21, 2020

This summer, the country celebrated the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the landmark legislation that has done so much to improve access for people with disabilities to many areas of American life.

At the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), our recognition of this important anniversary coincided with the release of our Draft ADA Title II Public Rights of Way Transition Plan Update. The draft transition plan updates and replaces the bureau’s 1996 plan and fulfills the requirements set forth in the ADA’s Title II.

PBOT’s Transition Plan defines how the bureau will identify obstructions in the public right of way and in the bureau’s programs, policies, practices, and procedures that create barriers to people with disabilities. It will also identify methods to remove those barriers and a schedule for implementation.

This work is vital both in terms of PBOT’s commitment to fostering equitable mobility for all Portlanders and to support the needs of Portlanders with disabilities. According to data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), 23% of people living in Multnomah County, where Portland is located, have a disability. In neighboring Clackamas and Washington Counties, 22% and 19% of residents respectively have a disability.

According to data from the 2013-2018 American Community Survey (ACS) 5-year estimate, the percentage of the population that reports having a disability increases with age. The types of disability include mobility, hearing, vision, cognitive, self-care, and independent living. Of Portlanders between 5 and 17 years of age, 6.3% have a disability. Portlanders who are 75 years of age and older report a rate of disability at 53.5%.

The primary goal of PBOT’s updated Transition Plan is to provide full program access to all Portlanders. A fully accessible transportation system is one that is safe, allows all people to move through it, and is appropriately built and maintained. This Transition Plan provides PBOT with specific information on public right of way and program barriers, identifying steps to eliminate them.

To ensure that the plan will meet the needs of the disabled community, federal law mandates robust public comment. But beyond the legal requirement, input from people with disabilities is essential to create an effective plan.

Comments from people with disabilities, their caregivers, and organizations that serve and support them are essential for the adopted plan to reflect the needs and priorities of that population.

This plan is a draft. The final plan will be taken to City Council for adoption in early 2021. Between now and adoption, PBOT hopes to hear from hundreds if not thousands of system users. The experiences they have and the insights they share will provide the best guidance on how to design and build a compliant system.

PBOT has connected with over 150 organizations that serve and support people with disabilities or culturally specific organizations. PBOT is offering several online open houses, as well as attending meetings or making presentations at existing meetings of organizations.

In recent meetings with blind and low-vision users, they described how even compliant elements can be problematic for them, but if adjusted only minimally would serve them and all other users equally. In another meeting, it was agreed that plans for a lengthy pedestrian switchback ramp for new bridge construction should be reviewed by wheelchair users before being finalized. In every conversation with users of mobility devices or canes, we are learning how to make the system serve the needs of all users.

When asked, PBOT designers and project managers enthusiastically supported a round table discussion with disabled system users to better understand how to avoid designs that don’t work for them, even if they are technically ADA compliant. In addition to information about the transportation system, we are learning more about interacting with people with disabilities on a personal level. Our awareness of disabilities is growing. Our awareness of people with disabilities just as people, is growing. The benefit of that is significant.

While the plan is going through public review and adoption, PBOT is making the system more accessible virtually every day. Projects build sidewalks where none previously existed. Maintenance crews build compliant curb ramps at corners without them. Pedestrian signals are installed at intersections. Relationships are being built with people and organizations to include their voices as we plan future projects. PBOT is committed to a transportation system accessible to all users and looks forward to working with all users to meet that commitment.

The public comment period is open until November 20, 2020.