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U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration

Office of the Administrator
Washington, DC 20590

Subject: FHWA/FTA Memorandum: Announcement of USDOT Accessibility Regulations

September 25, 2000

Dear Colleague:

We are seeking to enlist your active involvement in and support of the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) efforts to provide a transportation system that leaves no one behind and enables all Americans, including those with disabilities, to enjoy the benefits of an accessible transportation environment. We can work together to ensure that transportation offers the same level of mobility for people with disabilities as for other Americans and visitors. We urge you, our partners at the State, local, and community levels, to use all available resources to improve safety, accessibility, and transportation options for all people in the United States.

Much work has been done to prevent or eliminate barriers that hinder travel for individuals with disabilities. Yet many people with mobility, sensory, and cognitive impairments continue to encounter barriers in their efforts to gain access to work, school, commerce, health, faith, and leisure activities. Such barriers are unacceptable, and often prevent the approximately 54 million Americans with disabilities from exercising their civil rights to enjoy the benefits of their communities, and to contribute fully to a better society. Failure to build bus stops and sidewalks with appropriate accessibility features often forces people with disabilities off the sidewalks and into the streets to compete with vehicular traffic. It also increases use of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) complementary paratransit by passengers who would otherwise be able to ride the bus -- if they could get to the bus stop.

July 26, 2000 marked the tenth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which requires recipients of Federal funding to make the transportation infrastructure accessible, has been in effect for more than 27 years. Public entities with 50 or more employees are required to develop "Transition Plans" designed to identify, prioritize, and implement structural changes to existing public facilities where they are needed to ensure "program access." Pedestrian and other transportation networks are considered "programs" under the ADA, and must be accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. ADA implementing regulations specifically require public entities with responsibility for streets, roads, or walkways to include a schedule for providing curb ramps in their transition plans. Many jurisdictions have not yet completed these tasks. Some have been sued by disability advocates to bring them into compliance with the law.

The pedestrian system (including sidewalks with curb ramps, shared use paths and trails, street crossings, bus stops, and even temporary facilities to mitigate the impacts of construction) is a critical link in providing access to all components of the Nation's transportation environment. Construction or modification of sidewalks to include curb ramps, audible signals at intersections, appropriate street or pedestrian signs and furnishings, clear paths of travel, and other accessibility features, improve usability and safety for all travelers. Early this year, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Transit Administration jointly released a "US DOT Policy Statement on Integrating Bicycling and Walking into Transportation Infrastructure." This document emphasizes the importance of planning integrated and accessible pedestrian networks that mesh seamlessly with other transportation modes, particularly public transit. Planning processes and project development need to clearly identify access for people with disabilities, including those who use wheelchairs, in all new projects, alterations, and enhancements. We urge you to include universal design, which addresses the needs of people with disabilities and enhances the pedestrian experience of all transportation network users, as an integral part of the planning process from its inception.

Within the next few months, FHWA will publish Designing Sidewalks and Trails for Access, Part II: Best Practices Design Guide. This user friendly guide will explain how universal design benefits everyone and how to accommodate all pedestrians in our transportation system. Expanded and accessible pedestrian networks greatly improve neighborhood livability and interaction. Soliciting active involvement of the disability community and providing adequate funding for accessible features will move us dramatically toward compliance with and fulfillment of the principles of the ADA.

Two reports, issued within the past year, further highlight the critical need to establish accessible transportation as a top priority:

  • Recharting the Course: If Not Now, When?, the second annual report by the President's Task Force on Employment of Adults with Disabilities, emphasized the degree to which the segment of our population with disabilities has been left behind in an economy that now boasts almost full employment. The Task Force identified inaccessible transportation as a major impediment to finding and keeping jobs. In response, the President has directed DOT, in conjunction with several other agencies, to develop "a comprehensive plan of action to address the lack of transportation services and systems for persons with disabilities." That plan will be issued shortly.

  • Promises to Keep: A Decade of Federal Enforcement of the Americans With Disabilities Act was released on June 27, 2000 by the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent Federal agency established to advise the President and Congress on disability policy. While recognizing many positive efforts and the constraints of limited resources, the NCD's report found that Federal enforcement agencies have, to varying degrees, been "underfunded, overly cautious, reactive, and lacking any coherent and unifying national strategy."

Increased emphasis on pedestrian networks in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act and the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) greatly expanded both opportunities and obligations to provide access. The resources made available under TEA-21 for improving accessibility include Surface Transportation Program and National Highway System funds. Accessibility features may also be funded under the Transportation Enhancements set-aside, the Safety set-aside, the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program, the Recreational Trails Program, Transit Enhancements, and a variety of other funds including Federal Lands Highway, Scenic Byways, and Transit programs.

We invite you to join the DOT, other Federal agencies, our many public and private partners, the disability community, and other consumer representatives in a revitalized effort to improve the transportation environment for all, and especially the growing population of older citizens and people with disabilities. Together we will enhance technical assistance strategies, remedy enforcement weaknesses, develop a seamless transportation system accessible to all, and fulfill the renewed pledge expressed in the enclosed DOT Accessibility Policy Statement. In the inclusive spirit of the ADA, we challenge ourselves, and you as our partners, to complete the task of providing an accessible transportation system for a fully accessible America.

On behalf of the approximately 54 million Americans with disabilities, we thank you for your cooperation and look forward to working with you in this important endeavor.

Sincerely yours,

//original signed by// //original signed by//
Nuria I. Fernandez Kenneth R. Wykle
Acting Administrator, Administrator,
Federal Transit Administration Federal Highway Administration



The Secretary of Transportation
Washington, D.C. 20590

JULY 1999

ACCESSIBILITY IS A CIVIL RIGHT. The key function of transportation, at its most fundamental level, is to provide basic mobility to society. Yet transportation is about more than concrete, asphalt, and steel. It is about people and about providing opportunities for people. Our greatest challenge is to build a transportation system that is international in reach; intermodal in form; intelligent in character; and inclusive in nature.

Inclusive means that transportation must be accessible to all Americans. Transportation provides the critical link that allows each of us to fully participate in a panoply of societal activities, including work, school, commerce, and recreation activities. This is especially true for the fifty-four million Americans with disabilities. It is our responsibility to strive to ensure that transportation systems are not only safe and efficient, but also usable by all - including persons with disabilities.

It is critically important that we strengthen our commitment to equal access and equal opportunities to achieve the American dream. We must be ever vigilant in righting inequities that have existed for many years. We must strive to eliminate barriers in the nation's transportation system and to ensure that no future barriers are created.

As Secretary of Transportation, I want the public and our partners to understand that accessibility is a vital civil rights issue. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Air Carrier Access Act make this abundantly clear. We at the Department must lead the way in showing how inclusiveness can be achieved. We must demonstrate through our own programs and actions that a fully accessible transportation system-pedestrian, rail, transit, highway, water, and air-is not only essential, but attainable.

We must be mindful of accessibility and universal design in all that we do. As we build the bridge into the 21 st Century, the Department of transportation must do its part to see that the bridge can be crossed by everyone. Nine years after the passage of the ADA, we renew our pledge to make an accessible America a reality.

//original signed by//
Rodney E. Slater

Updated: 5/2/2012
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