Research Archive

11th ITS World Congress Conference Paper

Linking Technology with Accessibility for Seniors and People with Disabilities

Ronald E. Boenau
Special Operations Officer,
U.S. Federal Transit Administration Office of Mobility Innovation (TRI-10)
400 7th Street S.W.
Washington DC 20590
202-366-4995, 202-366-3765,

Donald L. Roberts
Senior Manager Transportation Systems Assessment, Mitretek Systems
600 Maryland Avenue S.W. #755
Washington DC 20024
202-863-2976, 202-863-2988,

Gwo-Wei Torng, Ph. D.
Lead Transportation Engineer, Mitretek Systems
600 Maryland Avenue S.W. #755
Washington DC 20024
202-488-5714, 202-863-2988,

Summary: Recently, the U.S. Federal Government has re-affirmed its commitment to support and help provide mobility and accessible transportation for all. There is also a growing recognition that ITS and other advanced technologies are providing new opportunities to overcome many of the barriers to accessibility that have existed in the past. This paper will provide a summary of the U.S. DOT activities to link technology with accessibility for Seniors and persons with disabilities. It will also highlight recent progress and promising opportunities that are under development.


President Bush's Administration has placed new emphasis on providing accessible transportation to seniors and persons' with disabilities and increasing recognition on the potential of ITS and advanced technologies to help provide new opportunities to meet this challenge. This is reflected in: the President’s “New Freedom Initiative” that has as a key component increasing access through technology; the U.S. DOT Strategic Plan of 2003 – 2008 (September 2003) statement that “Mobility is the right of every American”, and in new U.S. Department Of Transportation (USDOT) initiatives that focus on linking technology with accessibility and mobility for seniors and persons with disabilities. These include the following initiatives and other related activities and studies that are being led by the U.S. Federal Transit Administration (FTA), a modal agency in the USDOT:

  • United We Ride. This is a USDOT and FTA priority initiative launched in the summer of 2003, in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as well as with the departments of Labor and Education. A $1 million State Coordination Grant is made available for State initiatives to address gaps and needs related to human service transportation in their geographic regions.
  • Mobility Services for All Americans. This is a multi-year, multi-million dollar initiative sponsored by the USDOT and FTA in coordination with other departments with the goal to increase mobility and accessibility for the transportation disadvantaged and the general public, and achieve more efficient use of federal transportation funding resources through technology integration and service coordination.
  • Transportation and HHS Agency Coordination Operational Tests. This is a phased initiative that has allocated $2.8 million to 11 operational tests for coordination of transportation agency and HHS service provider technologies and innovative practices since 1999. Most of these operational tests focus on improving operational efficiencies from the transportation providers’ perspective.
  • ITS Applications for Coordinating and Improving Human Services Transportation Cross-Cutting Study. The Oakridge National Laboratory is leading this study to investigate ITS applications for coordinating human services transportation operations.
  • International Workshop on Mobility, Accessibility and Technology. This is a workshop hosted by American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and ITS America held in San Francisco in July 2004.
  • Transportation and HHS Regional Coordination Workshops. These workshops are a continuing effort to assist states in developing their transportation coordination action plans. Four have already taken place as of the summer of 2004 (FTA Regions 1, 3, 6, and 10) with six workshops expected to be completed by the end of calendar year 2004.
  • Coordinated Mobility: A Unified Transportation Management Solution. This is a new course currently under development by the National Transit Institute to provide a look at creative approaches to resolving these fragmented systems into a more seamless network with a customer-focused mindset. A pilot course is expected for delivery by Fall 2004. 

This paper provides context for these efforts and a summary of two of these key initiatives.

New Opportunities

New capabilities and opportunities are being created in both the transportation and rehabilitation communities through the use of emerging technologies and innovative services. Pioneering public transportation agencies are using Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) to provide centralized coordination of community transportation providers, one stop shopping, and service brokering through integrated automatic vehicle location systems, advanced communications, and universal benefit cards. Others are providing on-vehicle audio annunciation, accessible traveler information, and flexible routing to assist passengers with disabilities in using conventional transit services. In the rehabilitation community, innovative Assistive Technologies (AT) such as personal GPS and personal display assistants (PDAs) using mobile communications to provide real-time assistance to those with cognitive disabilities, accessible pedestrian signals, and "talking" bus stops and signs are also being developed. However, the two communities are often unaware of the research, new approaches, and advances that each is making, and neither may have direct communication with the disability community at large. The U.S. is now bringing them together to provide a coordinated effort to apply technological solutions to the barriers to accessibility and mobility for persons with disabilities.

United We Ride

Building the Fully Coordinated Human Service Transportation System

For most of us, getting to work, to the store, to the doctor, or getting to church and social functions means getting in our car. But for many people, it’s not that easy (1). There are often many challenges that individuals face when trying to “get a ride.”

It's not that we – governments and community organizations – have not tried to help. Nearly every human service program recognizes that transportation is important. In fact, there are 62 federal programs that fund transportation services. And Americans – through our taxes and through our charitable contributions – are spending a significant amount of money in order to help. Ironically, for most people who need transportation help, the creation of more programs has not made getting around much easier!

The key to using these funds and services more efficiently is coordination. The Department of Transportation, with its partners at the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Education, is launching United We Ride – a new initiative – to break down the barriers between programs and set the stage for local partnerships that generate common sense solutions and deliver A-plus performance for everyone who needs transportation. United We Ride includes:

  • Federal Executive Order. President Bush signed an Executive Order in February of 2004 establishing a Interagency Transportation Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility to focus 10 federal agencies on the coordination agenda.

    There are two key sections of this order that are of interest. Section 3 establishes, within the Department of Transportation for administrative purposes, the "Interagency Transportation Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility" ("Interagency Transportation Coordinating Council" or "Council"). The membership of the Interagency Transportation Coordinating Council shall consist of:

    (i) the Secretaries of Transportation, Health and Human Services, Education, Labor, Veterans Affairs, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, and the Interior, the Attorney General, and the Commissioner of Social Security; and

    (ii) other Federal officials as the Chairperson of the Council may designate.

    The Secretary of Transportation, or the Secretary's designee, shall serve as the Chairperson of the Council. The Chairperson shall convene and preside at meetings of the Council, determine its agenda, direct its work, and, as appropriate to particular subject matters, establish and direct subgroups of the Council, which shall consist exclusively of the Council's members.

    Section 4 defines the functions of the Interagency Transportation Coordinating Council. The Interagency Transportation Coordinating Council shall:

    (a) promote interagency cooperation and the establishment of appropriate mechanisms to minimize duplication and overlap of Federal programs and services so that transportation-disadvantaged persons have access to more transportation services;

    (b) facilitate access to the most appropriate, cost-effective transportation services within existing resources;

    (c) encourage enhanced customer access to the variety of transportation and resources available;

    (d) formulate and implement administrative, policy, and procedural mechanisms that enhance transportation services at all levels; and

    (e) develop and implement a method for monitoring progress on achieving the goals of this order.
  • A Framework for Action. Created by a panel of experts from around the country, the Framework for Action is a self-assessment tool that the various states and local communities can use to identify areas of success and highlight the actions still needed to improve the coordination of human service transportation.

    Framework for Action downloadables are provided below. Coordination helps to make the most efficient use of limited transportation resources. In communities where coordination is a priority, citizens benefit from improved service, lower costs and easier access to transportation. The Framework for Action is a comprehensive evaluation and planning tool to help state and community leaders and agencies involved in human service transportation and transit services, along with their stakeholders, improve or start coordinated transportation systems. Assessment and planning can be completed in one or two meetings. Implementation time will depend on the action items participants choose to pursue.
  • National Leadership Forum on Human Service Transportation Coordination. Secretary Mineta [USDOT], Secretary Chao [Department of Labor], Secretary Paige [Department of Education], and Secretary Thompson [HHS], engaged 47 Governor-appointed senior leadership teams in a National Leadership Forum which worked to raise the visibility of the issue among state leaders and secure commitments to action. The forum was a starting point to identify action steps and clarify technical assistance needs to improve human service transportation services. At the National Leadership Forum, Members of Congress, top Administration officials and industry leaders presented the first State Leadership United We Ride Awards. These awards recognized five States – Ohio, North Carolina, Washington, Florida, and Maryland – for their leadership in building and implementing infrastructures, policies and programs that facilitate human service transportation coordination.
  • State Coordination Grants. States will be eligible to submit an application for United We Ride State Coordination Grants, to address gaps and needs related to human service transportation in their geographic regions. The grant program started in June 2004.
  • Help Along the Way.This technical assistance program builds on the work of the Community Transportation Assistance Program (CTAP), the Rural Transportation Assistance Program (RTAP), Easter Seals Project ACTION (ESPA) and other stakeholders to provide hands-on assistance to states and communities in the development and delivery of coordinated human service transportation programs.
  • Regional Leadership Meetings for States. Planning teams involving federal regional leadership from agencies named in the Executive Order are bringing together state teams for workshops in six of the ten USDOT regions. These workshops will be scheduled in the summer and fall of 2004.

Mobility Services for All Americans

A 2003 General Accounting Office (GAO) report states that 62 federal programs fund transportation services for the transportation disadvantaged, and that 28 of the 62 programs alone spent at least $2.4 billion in FY 2001 on these services (2). Currently, due to inefficiencies, limited resources, and a lack of coordination, delivery of human services transportation is challenging. In many locations, human services transportation is fragmented, resulting in service area gaps (geographical areas where service is not provided) or limited service area size due to an absence in trip transfers between transportation providers. Often, customers have to contact multiple case workers for multiple funding programs, trip requests have to be made well in advance, scheduled trip times are inconvenient, pick-up wait times are long and difficult to estimate, trip travel times are long, and accessibility to transit for seniors and persons with disabilities is limited. ITS transit technologies can help resolve these problems and produce the customer improvements discussed above. (3)

Coalition Building

One of the major goals of the Mobility Services for All Americans initiative is creating a bridge between the transportation and ITS and human services communities in order to create new solutions that combine the efforts and knowledge of both. Coalition building will be accomplished in three levels. The first level (core group) is a USDOT inter-modal program management team that involves key personnel from three modal administrations, including FTA, FHWA and FMCSA. This core group performs essential program planning, management and decision-making functions, monitors the course, and is ultimately responsible for program outcomes. The second level is an inter-department coalition that initially includes representatives from four federal agencies: Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Labor, Department of Education and USDOT with USDOT as the lead department. These four agencies collectively administer 52 of the 62 federal programs, identified in the GAO report, that provide human services transportation to the transportation disadvantaged. The third level of coalition building reaches out to the stakeholder groups beyond public agencies. Stakeholders may include grass-roots, community/advocacy groups, industry organizations, transportation service providers, trade associations, and private businesses.

Foundation Research

The primary purposes of foundation research include:

  • Integrate knowledge from the transportation and human services communities on needs, gaps, barriers, past and current innovations and emerging opportunities, so that program resources can be allocated to focus on the "right" targets
  • Establish the "baseline" so that measurable performance can be defined and gauged
  • Develop an inventory so that subsequent program activities can build upon existing knowledge and systems
  • Identify concurrent activities and initiatives by public sectors so that related efforts can be effectively integrated and/or coordinated

The end result of this research will:

  • Identify needs and gaps in current transportation practice experienced by transportation disadvantaged populations
  • Identify barriers experienced by the transportation disadvantaged, transportation service providers and program administrators/agencies that lead to gaps and unmet needs in accessibility and mobility
  • Develop inventories of: state-of-the-practice, past and ongoing projects, and available information/references that are related to using advanced technologies to improve accessibility and mobility of the transportation disadvantaged
  • Assess and prioritize the potential technologies (or "packages") and their applications based upon their ability to address the needs/gaps and their readiness for widespread application

Technology Integration, Testing and Evaluation

This initiative may include up to three field operational tests on integrating different ITS and other assistive technologies to enhance service coordination and address unmet mobility and accessibility needs of transportation disadvantaged populations. The philosophy of conducting these smaller scale operational tests is to allow intermediate advances in implementing "packages" of technologies for coordination and accessibility enhancement under different operating environments and scenarios. The scope of these tests considers all technologies, including Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), Assistive Technologies (AT), and other technologies and innovations, to improve the availability and accessibility of public transportation services to transportation-disadvantaged persons, including three areas of potential technology applications:

  • Technologies and services for improving the access, egress, and ease of use of conventional fixed route transit and other non-private auto transportation for the transportation disadvantaged
  • Technologies and services for the provision of accessible demand response transit, para-transit, and other mobility options to transportation-disadvantaged persons
  • Technologies and services for coordination of all transportation services to provide fully accessible door-to-door mobility equivalent to that provided to the general public.

Test sites will be selected based on criteria approved by the program management team. Potential factors may include existing operational and technology deployment status, physical built environment and demographic characteristics, concurrent activities at federal, state and local levels, and local support and willingness to participate. An independent evaluation contractor(s) shall participate from the initial test planning stage and become an integral part of the tests.

Replicable/Scalable Model of Traveler Management Coordination Center

The end product of this initiative is the creation of a replicable/scalable model of a traveler management coordination center (TMCC) that not only provides one-stop, unified, customer-based travel information and trip planning services, but also supports coordination of human services transportation management and operations across various social welfare programs. The TMCC will deploy a collection of technologies that are readily available (e.g. tested and proven) and have demonstrated significant benefits and return on investment based on empirical evidence. Only one demonstration site is currently planned. The concept of replicability and scalability is essential to the system design and specification of TMCC in order to promote widespread deployment (i.e. minimal customization required from one deployment to another) across the country. In addition to a self-evaluation to be performed by the grantee agency, an independent contractor will be selected by the USDOT to conduct a comprehensive evaluation to determine the returns on investment and measure the overall success of TMCC in achieving program goals.


  • Federal Transit Administration, United We Ride web page
  • General Accounting Office (GAO), Transportation-Disadvantaged Populations: Some Coordination Efforts Among Programs Providing Transportation Services, but Obstacles Persist GAO-03-697, Washington, D.C., June 2003.
  • Federal Transit Administration, ITS Joint Program Office, Mobility Services for All Americans, Draft project plan, June 2004.