Public Involvement Techniques

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1. Informing People Through Outreach and Organizationskip page navigation

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1.A - Including People Who Are Underserved by Transportation
1.A.a - Ethnic, Minority, and Low-Income Groups
1.A.b - People with Disabilities

1. Introduction

1.A.b - People With Disabilities

Who are people with disabilities?

The disability community encompasses many people. The Census 2000 Supplementary Survey estimates that approximately 17% of the American household population aged five and over has a disability. This can include functional limitations (blindness, deafness, severe vision or hearing impairments, physical mobility limitations), developmental limitations, self-care limitations, and work limitations. In addition, many other Americans are temporarily disabled during part of their lives—whether aged, infirm, or recuperating. In identifying and consulting with the disability community, agencies find a wide range of strikingly different needs. Ideas and input from people with disabilities provide insight about their needs in using the programs or facilities being developed. Additionally, people with disabilities participate as interested members of the community.

What guidelines apply to the accessibility of public involvement activities for people with disabilities?

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) stipulates involving the community, particularly those with disabilities, in the development and improvement of services. For example, in rail transit planning, participation by the disability community is essential for a key station plan. People with disabilities—in particular those who have vision impairments—rely on pedestrian and transit modes for independent mobility. Accessible sidewalks, street crossings, and accessible vehicles are effective ways of reducing community use of costly paratransit options.

Self-evaluation and transition plans required under the ADA (1990) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 also require consultation with people who have disabilities. Many transportation agencies rely on the advice of committees of disabled users. Also, sites of public involvement activities as well as the information presented must be accessible to persons with disabilities.

The ADA requires specific participation activities—particularly for paratransit plans. These include:

  • Outreach (developing contacts, mailing lists, and other means of notification to participate);
  • Consultation with individuals with disabilities;
  • Opportunity for public comment;
  • Information in accessible formats;
  • Public hearings in accessible facilities;
  • Summaries of significant issues raised during the public comment period; and
  • Ongoing efforts to involve the disability community in planning.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended in 1998, requires that Federal agencies make electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. Inaccessible technology can interfere with an individual’s ability to obtain and use information quickly and easily. Section 508 was enacted to eliminate barriers in information technology, to make available new opportunities for people with disabilities, and to encourage the development of technologies that will achieve these goals. The law applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic information technology. Its standards provide criteria specific to various types of technologies, including:

  • Software applications and operating systems;
  • Web-based information or applications;
  • Telecommunication products;
  • Video and multimedia products;
  • Self contained, closed products (e.g., information kiosks, fax machines); and
  • Desktop and portable computers.

Under Section 508, Federal agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to the access available to others.

Section 508 applies to the Federal government, but there may be implications at the state level. Many states have also passed legislation requiring electronic and information technology accessibility.

Who participates? And how?

People who have disabilities in sight, hearing, or mobility participate. People with disabilities may be pedestrians, transit riders, or drivers. They share many characteristics with other users of transportation facilities—children, older Americans, and traveling with packages, suitcase, strollers, and carts. A broadened view of user characteristics in the design of transportation facilities will build support from all facets of the community. The Spokane, Washington, Transit Authority solicited disability community involvement through a “Rider Alert” program. Orange County, California, Transportation Authority scheduled one-on-one meetings with representatives of individual groups to obtain input to its planning effort. In Juneau, Alaska, public workshops were held to discuss compliance with ADA’s transportation requirements.

Does involving people with disabilities have special requirements?

Both facilities and information must be accessible. All events held for programs or projects with Federal aid and open to the general public must be made accessible to everyone, including the disability community. Meeting notices should state that the meeting is accessible and that services are provided for interpretation (based on national and state civil rights laws for public meetings). Special efforts are needed to comply with the statutory requirements of the Federal transportation legislation, and ADA, and the Section 508 of Rehabilitation Act.

Sign language interpreters may be required. They must be hired early, since they are in scarce supply. Two interpreters are necessary for meetings longer than one hour, to provide breaks for each other. Public notices for a meeting should state that sign language interpreters will be made available upon request, as was done by the Sacramento and San Mateo County, California, Regional Transit Districts and the Johnson City, Tennessee, Transit System. An individual who is both blind and deaf can be accommodated by a deaf/blind interpreter, who uses sign language in direct contact with that person’s hands.

Listening assistance may be required, depending on the meeting place. For example, small devices are available to amplify speakers’ voices via an FM, infrared, or inductive loop system. It is possible to rent or borrow them from a State commission for the deaf. In Massachusetts, the Guild for the Hard of Hearing offers them on loan. Many meeting rooms in newer buildings have embedded in the floor an inductive loop to be used for transmission. A State commission for the deaf may have Computer-Aided Real Time (CART) reporting in which the reporter transcribes proceedings onto a screen during the meeting. Cable television stations covering meetings should provide interpretation or captioning in rebroadcasting.

A text telephone (TTY) is essential for communicating with people who are deaf or have communications impairment over the telephone. Under the ADA, all public agencies should have this inexpensive, modem-like device for a telephone with a keyboard into which messages are typed rather than spoken. A small light-emitting diode (LED) screen on each machine shows the message. In some machines the message may also be recorded on paper tape. Many telephone systems can now be connected to utilize the computer screen and keyboard as a TTY.

People with disabilities require materials in accessible format. Prior to meetings, the Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Bureau of Transportation advertises the availability of its plan in large print, tape, Braille, and computer diskette formats. The Delaware Administration for Specialized Transportation certifies that plans are available in accessible formats, either in large print or on cassette tape. For people with sight impairments, documents are prepared in large (22 point) print in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Meeting announcements are prepared in large print in Wheeling, West Virginia. The Phoenix, Arizona, Regional Public Transportation Authority used large, bold, sans serif typefaces in its questionnaire on a plan update. Whichever formats are chosen, the person making the request must be able to use them. Many consumers with vision impairments now rely on electronic files, especially for larger texts.

Many states, local agencies, and organizations have developed checklists for planning accessible events. Below is a sample created by the Office of Equity Programs and the Fairfax Disability Service Board for Fairfax County, VA.

Element Accommodation Area Yes No
  • Do you know your agency’s responsibility to provide accessibility to persons’ with disabilities?
  • Is the facility/meeting location accessible by public transportation?
  • If yes, is public transportation available at the time of your meeting/training?
  • Do you know the emergency evacuation plans for the meeting/training location?
  • Does the building have accessible (handicap) parking spaces?
  • If yes, are they at least 8’ wide and have 5’ aisles next to them?
  • Are there unobstructed curb ramps leading to the sidewalk (walkway)?
  • Is there a walkway from the parking lot to the building, at least 36” wide?
  • Does the walkway have a stable and firm surface?
  • If the accessible route is different from the primary route to and through the building, can you post signs with the wheelchair symbol that show the route?
  • Is the walkway level and free of steps?
  • If no, is there a ramp at least 36” wide?
  • If there is a ramp, does it have a gentle slope (1” rise to 12” length)?
  • Is the door at least 32” wide (wide enough for a wheelchair)?
  • Can the hardware be operated with one hand (level, push plate, etc.) with a minimum of twisting or grasping)?
  • Are the handles low enough to reach? (maximum 48” high)
  • Can the door be pushed open easily?
  • Is the threshold no more than 1/2” high and beveled?
  • When a vestibule, is there a minimum of 48” between the sets of doors?
  • Are the floors hard and not slippery?
  • Is there a floor mat to dry feet and crutch tips to prevent slipping?
  • Is there a 36” corridor, from the entrance to where the meeting/training is held?
  • Is the path free of objects projecting 4” maximum into the corridor?
  • Is there an elevator in the facility where the meeting/training is located?
  • If yes, is it a working one that is large enough for a wheelchair?
  • Are the controls within reach? (maximum 48”)
  • Do the controls have Braille?
  • Is there an audible signal ringing at each floor?
  • Is there an audible two-way emergency communication system in the elevator?
Meeting/Training Rooms
  • Is there enough clearance around the table for a wheelchair to move?
  • Can the wheelchair pull under the edge of the table to sit close?
  • Is there a wide, accessible path to the restroom?
  • Is there a toilet stall wide enough that a wheelchair can enter and close the door behind? Interior space to turn around?
  • Is the water closet (toilet) 17-19 inches high to the rim?
  • Can the wheelchair roll under the sink (29 inches to the bottom)?
  • Can the faucets be reached and turned on easily?
  • Are the dispensers (soap, towel, etc) reachable? (maximum 48” high)
  • Is there a mirror at an accessible height? (bottom of the mirror 44” above the floor)
  • Do you know how to arrange for sign language interpreters?
  • (You must ask the participant the type of interpretation needed)
  • Is there a Teletype unit (TTY) in your facility/agency?
  • If yes, is the number published on the announcements alongside the phone number?
  • Is the staff in your agency trained to use the TTY?
  • Can the TTY be used by those attending your meeting/training?
  • Does the staff know how to use the Virginia Relay Center?
Assistive Listening System (ALS)
  • Does your facility have permanent assistive listening system?
  • If yes, do you know how to use it?
  • Do you know how to arrange for an ALS (permanent, portable, and rental)?
  • (You must ask the participant the type of system and listening accessory needed)
  • Do you know how to arrange for captioning or computer assisted note-taking services?
  • Do the videotapes or other broadcast programming materials that you may be using during your meeting/ training carry captioning?
Fire Alarm
  • Are there flash fire alarm signals in the building? In the meeting/training room?
  • Can you provide clear, detailed directions to the facility and/or the meeting room?
  • Is there a receptionist to offer assistance? (If not, can someone be available to help?)
  • Can you provide the meeting/training materials in alternative formats if requested?
  • (You must ask the participant what format is needed)
  • Is there Braille text in the signage at the facility?
  • Is there adequate lighting in the elevators, hallways, stairwells, etc?

Source: Fairfax County Virginia, Office of Equity Programs,

Additional examples of checklists for planning accessible events can be found at:

How do agencies use the output?

Agencies’ efforts are not fully inclusive of everyone’s ideas until they include people with disabilities. This requires an expansive approach to accommodate the population that is disabled.

Who leads the process?

Every State and MPO must make events accessible to people with disabilities. Information on accessibility needs is offered by State commissions dealing with disabilities, deafness, rehabilitation, or blindness, as well as by local agencies or advocacy groups. Many of these groups assist in doing outreach for transportation processes.

State agencies should be a central focus for information for individuals with disabilities. In Massachusetts, for example, the Commission on the Blind, the Association for the Blind, and the Vision Foundation record information about dates or events and provide it to telephone callers.

What does it cost?

Costs may include investigating meeting facilities for accessibility, creating/providing accessible formats of outreach materials, websites, and other information tools, and arranging for interpreters, assisted listening systems, and captioning.

How does it relate to other techniques?

All meetings or hearings must be accessible to comply with ADA, if they are open to the general public. (See Public Meetings/Hearings; Open Houses/Open Forum Hearings.) This includes most public meetings or hearings, as well as charrettes, brainstorming sessions, and visioning meetings. (See Brainstorming; Charettes; Visioning.) Civic advisory committees can serve the interests of persons with disabilities with appropriate representation of them. (See Civic Advisory Committees.)

When is it most effective?

All events may attract people with disabilities. Special efforts and events are useful to attract people with disabilities and to encourage their participation in the process. When the expertise of the disability community is used to make an event accessible, it is likely to be more effective. (See Non-traditional Meeting Places and Events.)

For further information:

Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers (DBTACs) - provide information, materials, technical assistance and training on the ADA (800)-949-4232
Resources for Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act;
Kailes, June Issacson and Daniel Jones, A Guide to Planning Accessible Meetings, Houston: ILRU Program. (Available from ILRU program for $25 plus P+H) (713) 520-0232
TDD (713) 520-5785
FAX (713) 520-5785
Capitol Transit, Juneau, Alaska (907) 789-6901
Massachusetts Assistive Technology Partnership Center Voice (617) 735-7820
TDD (617) 735-7301
Project ACTION, ADA Public Participation Handbook (202) 347-3066
(800) 659-NIAT (Voice/TTY)
RESNA Technical Assistance Project, Technical Assistance Personnel Directory (202) 857-1140

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