by Claire Stanley
The American Council of the Blind continues to engage in conversations with Amtrak. I, along with several other disability advocacy organizations, meet with Amtrak every three months to discuss what Amtrak is working on that impacts passengers with disabilities. The working group also acts as a platform for disability advocacy groups to bring up issues facing passengers with disabilities. At the last quarterly meeting, ACB brought to Amtrak’s attention the fact that the website and mobile app did not allow blind individuals using screen readers to purchase tickets independently. Nor would the site allow blind users to scroll through the list of train arrivals and departures. Since that meeting, the problem has been corrected; ACB was able to directly connect people experiencing the accessibility issues with the programmers who had the ability to remedy the problem. A significant result of these meetings is that the designers, engineers, and computer scientists are right there in the room screening questions and concerns.
The working group also includes designers and engineers who are developing new train models that will be produced and placed on the tracks in several years. It is an exciting time; Amtrak is creating all new designs of future train cars. As the new models are discussed, the disability advocacy groups are able to talk about accessibility design issues that will either benefit or hinder disabled passengers. ACB has been able to talk about design details that will benefit the blind and visually impaired community, such as the presence of audible announcements, as well as large print and braille signage. Please let ACB know of any accessibility functions you believe would be beneficial or necessary in future train models.
One ongoing concern is the inability to purchase a discounted disability ticket from the website. In order to receive a ticket with that discount, passengers have to call in to the operated phone line. The phone line experiences heavy traffic, and passengers can be placed on hold for extended periods of time. ACB has brought this concern to Amtrak management’s attention multiple times. Amtrak is aware of this concern; it will be fixed sometime this year. They explained that website changes are rolled out over time, and this change is in queue to be rolled out.
We are also in the process of scheduling a meeting with Amtrak to discuss emergency response procedures for disabled passengers. Amtrak has a series of practices and procedures when evacuating a train during an emergency. However, these procedures may need to be modified for people with disabilities. We will discuss these concerns at our meeting.
In addition to the quarterly meetings, ACB has direct access to Amtrak’s ADA coordinator. If ACB members experience accessibility problems while at stations or on trains, please let Claire Stanley and/or Clark Rachfal know by emailing them at [email protected].