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four people standing and one in a wheelchair, all about to board a city bus

Like all people, people with disabilities need a way to get around. More and more, public transportation and new technologies are helping people with disabilities go to work, go shopping, and visit friends.

Public transportation

The Americans With Disabilities Act requires that new public buses and rail vehicles (such as subway cars) be accessible to people in wheelchairs. Many new buses now have lifts or ramps for people in wheelchairs. The buses also must have at least two spaces inside for securing wheelchairs.

For people who cannot use fixed route bus services, many city transit agencies provide what is known as "paratransit." Paratransit services typically use vans or mini-buses that are equipped with wheelchair lifts or ramps. These vehicles usually do not follow fixed schedules. To schedule a pick-up, you call the transit agency.

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Adapting motor vehicles for people with disabilities

Adaptive devices allow many people with disabilities to drive their own vehicles. Some examples are:

  • Hand controls that operate the brakes and accelerator
  • Wheelchair lifts and ramps
  • Left foot accelerator (for a driver missing a right leg)
  • Right hand turn signals (for a driver missing a left arm)

A driving rehabilitation specialist can tell you if adapting your vehicle is possible. To find a driving rehabilitation specialist in your area, contact a local rehabilitation center or contact the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists. A qualified vehicle modification dealer installs the devices suggested for your car. This dealer is not the same as the dealer that sold you your vehicle. Your state's department of disability services may have a list of qualified vehicle modification dealers in your area. Also, you can contact the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association.

Programs that pay part or all of the cost of vehicle modification might be offered in your state. To find out, contact your state's department of disability services.

For more information on adapting your motor vehicle and how to pay for it, see the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's brochure Adapting Motor Vehicles for People With Disabilities.

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Air travel

Rules and policies are in place to ensure that people with disabilities have the same opportunity as all people to travel by plane. For instance,

  • Airlines must provide help with getting on and off most planes (some very small planes are not accessible), as well as connecting to another flight.
  • Airports and airline reservations must have TDD telephone devices for people with hearing or speech impairments.
  • Airlines must allow service animals to accompany a passenger in the cabin.
  • New, widebody airplanes must have an onboard wheelchair and an accessible bathroom.
  • All disability-related equipment and devices are allowed through security checkpoints once cleared through security screening.

The Transportation Security Administration outlines the provisions for air travelers with disabilities and medical conditions. The Federal Aviation Administration also provides information on your rights and responsibilities as an air traveler in the brochure New Horizons: Information for the Air Traveler with a Disability (PDF, 74 KB).

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Content last updated: September 22, 2009.

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