Until the late 20th century, transportation options for people with disabilities in the US were rather limited. Public transportation systems had no obligations to make their buses wheelchair accessible or to provide services for people who were unable to make it to the bus stop.
In 1990, that changed when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed. The ADA required public transit companies to provide accommodations for people with disabilities. As part of this, buses and vans had to have either a lift or a ramp, enabling people in wheelchairs to ride. In addition, there had to be at least two places on every bus where a wheelchair could be secured. To satisfy the latter requirement, buses and trains often have seats that can fold up and out of the way to accommodate a wheelchair.
The ADA created other mandatory transportation options for people with disabilities, as well. As of 1990, any public transit company funded by the Federal Transit Association (FTA) is required to provide paratransit for people who cannot make it to the bus stop because of their disabilities. Paratransit used to be defined simply as flexible transportation, such as vans or share taxis, where the vehicles didn’t follow a specific route, but picked up and dropped people wherever needed. Recently, however, this service has been redefined.
Paratransit is useful for handicapped people because the vans have the flexibility to pick up passengers without making them walk to a bus stop. For many people with disabilities, having to walk to and from the bus stop or make a transfer would be a severe hardship. Elderly and disabled people simply make an appointment for the paratransit service to pick them up at the day and time they need the ride.
Unfortunately, many people with disabilities still struggle with transportation. Traveling to and from the bus stop and making connections are often difficult for people with disabilities, and riding the bus in a wheelchair can be challenging as well. Although paratransit services are touted for their flexibility, in fact they often require an appointment days or weeks in advance. The public is growing steadily more aware of obstacles like these in many places, and in time there may be marked improvement in the transportation services for the disabled.