Written by: DBCA President Amita Srinivasan

Image Description: Kelvin Crosby exploring a tactile map of the the Portland International Airport. Large tactile shapes indicate information like the location of the pet relief area, ticket counters, flight gates, etc.

Accessibility in transportation is key for inclusion in community for all people with disabilities. The deafblind community stands at the intersection of disabilities and is also a low incidence disability which makes us more vulnerable to any barriers in accessing our built up environment. Technology has made many advances but it is still designed first for the general consumer. Accessibility is often added in later after the product is rolled out. It is critical that we have an inclusive process especially in transportation since many studies have shown that participating in community activities in key to wellbeing and employment. I, personally, have seen that many of my friends are isolated after graduating from school since they are unable to attend social activities as they do not have accessible means of transportation. The current DBCA executive decided to focus on transportation for our first ever white paper so that we could study this issue in depth. Our intention is to collaborate with various entities that are involved in transportation about how to improve accessibility for the deafblind community. These will be used to develop a learning module in partnership with Portland State to benefit deafblind adults. DBCA 2020 summit meet will be in March before the Mobility Matters Conference at Portland State where we will introduce the new cohort and have a leadership workshop focused on transportation.

The DBCA transportation subcommittee just had a meeting in Portland, Oregon where we went out into the community to look at accessibility in public transportation systems. We studied trains and light rails systems, airports and the security process at the airport. Portland had accessible crosswalks near Portland State University which allowed us to walk to the light rail station safely and quickly. We found that the kiosks to buy the light rail passes were mostly inaccessible. Portland Amtrak has a Red Hat service which uses trained personnel to help people with disabilities and senior citizens board and navigate in the train. They help with the ramps and lifts to board the train and also within the train by helping with the services available inside. But many people who do not call ahead or do not know about this service will find it difficult to board and navigate the train. We were able to explore the train and look at all the features. We also went to Portland airport where we met with accessibility officials. The PDX airport has great accessibility features like a pet relief area with a tactile map. We also met with TSA Cares who have awesome personnel to help people with disabilities navigate the airport process. While most airports have at most one or two TSA Cares personnel, the PDX airport is the only one with a TSA Cares team of personnel who are there every day to help people with disabilities through the security process quickly. They are even looking at adding a SSP personnel or training to their team. We hope this model of having a dedicated team of TSA Cares personnel to help people with disabilities or people with medical needs is replicated in each airport. However, there are still many gaps in accessibility like the kiosks to check in, wayfinding or gate/announcement notifications etc. We gave many suggestions to the officials we met about how to make the airport more accessible for the deafblind community.

Divya Goel and her fiancé, Jeremy Best, both serve on the DBCA transportation subcommittee and came to Portland for our meeting. Divya, DBCA vice president, summarized her Portland visit, “Our (field) trip to Amtrak train in Portland for a meeting and it was our first ever experience with a real life time Amtrak train. We both had never been on this train. We did have a lot of things to discuss and gave feedback (to them) about the improved service for people with disabilities. However, our best primary focus on the airport than Amtrak. We (Divya and Jeremy) (gave) many suggestions to help improve services for both airport, Transportation Security Agency (TSA), and airplanes.” Read more about Divya and Jeremy’s TSA Cares experience in our newsletter.

Kelvin Crosby, CEO Smart Guider, who is a member of the subcommittee also came to Portland. He said, “We started a relationship with the Portland Amtrak, Airport, and TSA. The biggest take away from these meeting is the TSA Cares program which allows people with disabilities to have more time and assistance going through the TSA screening process. In Portland, we all got our own lane to go through TSA, (when) taking our planes home. We need to work more with Amtrak because they are understaffed and don’t have the best accommodation for deafblind individuals. We are looking forward to working with Amtrak more in the future. We learn more about the Portland Airport structure. We are looking forward to seeing where these relationships go and how we can help deafblind people navigate travel more easily.” Kelvin Crosby also talked to us about emerging technology and his SMART cane, and how it can help in guiding and wayfinding. Jia Fei Reeves talked about her guide dog and how transportation should accommodate Deafblind people with guide dogs.

In conclusion, we had a wonderful meeting where we were able to focus on issues with accessibility in transportation; we were able to meet with transportation officials, give many suggestions on improving services for the deafblind community while also studying their models. We are so very thankful to our partner, Portland State University for allowing us to avail of their hospitality, supporting our meetings and partnering with us. They will also be collaborating with us on future events as we work on our transportation learning module. So many people including from PDX airport, TSA Portland, Portland Tri-Met and Amtrak were so generous in hosting our committee and taking the time to talk to us about accessibility. They allowed us to film videos and take images that we will use to teach students and deafblind individuals about accessibility and accommodations in transportation. But most of all, we are thankful to our volunteers, interpreters and SSP’s, who come every time we meet and are part of our fam here at DBCA! It is these partnerships and people that help us going further in our mission to make this world a more accessible place for all of us. Also a big thank you to all of you, our online family, who support our work on Facebook by commenting, sharing and liking our posts.