Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the REVISED Draft Revisions to the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buses and Vans, as issued by the U.S. Access Board on November 19, 2008.
T203.10.1 Priority Seats.
Comment: This intended clarification that "set of seats" means "two seats" does not actually appear to accomplish this... the concept of "set of seats" appears to have been lost entirely, in favor of one each individual forward facing and aisle facing seats. This does not really make sense, nor does it seem adequate.
T403.1 General. Securement systems, including attachments, shall comply with T403. Securement systems shall be capable of securing wheelchairs and mobility aids that can enter and maneuver within an accessible vehicle. Securement systems shall be automatic or easy to operate by a trained person.
Comment: The removal of the term "common wheelchair", along with the corresponding definition, may create confusion as to what the securement system is actually intended to secure. For example, wheeled walkers with seats and brakes, "go-ped" type scooters, geri-chairs, gurneys, bicycles, tricycles, and other devices that people use as mobility aids could be construed as being sanctioned for using the wheelchair space and for being secured as if it was a wheelchair, even with the person sitting in/on it. This could be both unsafe and unfair to users of wheelchairs and bona fide mobility scooters.
In order to avoid this potential confusion, the Access Board revision should define what is meant by “wheelchairs and mobility aids”. Whether or not the “common wheelchair” sub-definition of the size envelope is retained in the vehicle guidelines, it should at least be referred to as existing in the US DOT regulations, which are parallel and complementary to the ADAAG for vehicles, and therefore should be reference in a coordinated manner:
Existing USDOT (49CFR37.3) definition:
Wheelchair means a mobility aid belonging to any class of three or four-wheeled devices, usable indoors, designed for and used by individuals with mobility impairments, whether operated manually or powered. A ``common wheelchair'' is such a device which does not exceed 30 inches in width and 48 inches in length measured two inches above the ground, and does not weigh more than 600 pounds when occupied.
49 CFR Sec. 37.165 Lift and securement use. (Part 37_Transportation Services For Individuals With Disabilities (ADA), Subpart G_Provision of Service)
(b) All common wheelchairs and their users shall be transported in the entity's vehicles or other conveyances.
(c)(1) For vehicles complying with part 38 of this title (same as Access Bd. part 1192), the entity shall use the securement system to secure wheelchairs as provided in that Part.
In addition, the US DOJ issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that updates and clarifies the existing definition of "wheelchair". The ADAAG for vehicles should at least recognize this and the existing definition, and should not use other terms, specifically "mobility aids" that are not defined. This is because taken by itself, the ADAAG can, either appropriately or inappropriately, be considered by readers as being the base official guidance on the overall topic. Another issue is that vehicle and securement system manufacturers should be able to expect a defined universe of devices that their equipment is to be expected to accommodate.
US DOJ NPRM 6-17-08:
The Department proposes the following definition of ‘‘wheelchair’’ in § 35.104: ‘‘Wheelchair means a device designed solely for use by an individual with a mobility impairment for the primary purpose of locomotion in typical indoor and outdoor pedestrian areas. A wheelchair may be manually operated or power-driven.’’
A separate issue is that the phrase “easy to operate by a trained person” is vague and can be interpreted to mean a variety of things. It should be eliminated or clarified.
T403.5 Padded Head Rest. (Rear-facing securement padded barrier width reduced from 18” to 10-12”)
Comment: This change seems to have been done to allow for narrow wheelchair handles (which can be as close as 12 inches apart) to straddle the padded barrier. However, the concept of backing up that closely to the barrier is part of the European/Canadian approach, which has a barrier that goes much closer to the floor and relies on contact with the passenger’s back. At 38 inches above the floor, the bottom of the ADA-required “head stop” style barrier is probably too high to be concerned about its interaction with wheelchair handles, since average wheelchair handles are 34-38” off the ground.
This brings up the larger issue that the existing ADA rear facing concept does not allow for the European/Canadian “passive compartmentalization” approach. ADA-compliant tiedowns and occupant restraints are still required, as the padded barrier is not intended to contain the wheelchair and user in the event of a sudden stop. The goal of the compartmentalization approach is to alleviate the need for cumbersome tiedown and occupant restraint devices, especially in BRT services where minimization of boarding dwell times is critical.
Another issue is that the required FMVSS-compliant type of occupant restraints are intended for forward facing vehicle passengers. They do not perform the intended function in the opposite direction. This requirement is another impediment to implementing the passive compartmentalization approach.
If the Access Board is really serious about updating the ADA vehicle specifications, it should investigate this concept fully, and wait to propose any and all revisions to the guidelines until this concept can either be accepted or rejected as feasible for use in US transit services. A related issue is that there is currently an effort to develop an ISO standard, and presumably correlated ANSI standards, for this topic. The Canadian Standards Association already has its own standard, which is interesting since several major bus manufacturers serving the US market are headquartered in Canada.
There have also been arguments made by researchers and safety experts that the rear-facing orientation should only be allowed in large transit vehicles, as it may not provide appropriate levels of crash safety in smaller paratransit vehicles.
T805 Operable Parts: T805.2 Height. Operable parts shall be located 380 mm (15 inches) minimum and 1220 mm (48 inches) maximum above the vehicle floor.
Comment: Recognizing that the proposed change is actually only editorial, and that these values were used in the existing ADAAG for vehicles, this is another area where it seems more research and/or reconsideration by the Access Board is needed. The specification for passenger-operated stop request control to be located anywhere from 15 to 48 inches above the floor is too broad of a range, as it puts the typical small control out of reach of mobility device users that may have limited arm motion.
A better range would be somewhere in the vicinity of 22 to 36 inches, but it seems more research is needed on this topic, especially with the longer required wheelchair securement area vis-a-vis the fore and aft placement requirement of 3 inches from the centerline.
Douglas J. Cross, member:
APTA Access Committee (and past chair, Wheelchair User Issues Subcommittee)
ANSI/RESNA Committee on Wheelchairs and Transportation
Advisory Board, Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Wheelchair Transportation Safety
Click here to see the attached file.