NJ Transit Tackles Accessibility—Not a Success

Accessibility—something important to all of us. Some, temporarily able-bodied, need not concern themselves with it on a daily basis, able to simply take for granted that their chosen mode of transportation will not present barriers to free travel.

Any agency providing public service, however, must take into account the various barriers that people might find in attempting to use their services. For transit, some of the obvious concerns are good signage, audio announcements for those with vision-related issues, staircases vs elevators for those using wheelchairs or scooters (and lifts for such devices on buses, as well as bridge plates for train platforms—which need high-level platforms), digital material easy to read via screen readers (PDFs are notoriously difficult for screen readers).

On June 14, NJ Transit held an Accessibility Forum for riders. This mostly-online event (Microsoft Teams was used in Webinar, rather than Meeting, format) started with a public comment period—and instantly, the irony was obvious: the meeting was inaccessible! Speakers were called on to speak, but unable to open their microphones. This was not one or two tech novices with problems, or people with disabilities finding accessibility problems in the forum itself. No, this was the majority of the public speakers, folks who have been on digital platforms throughout the pandemic, getting a message that “only panelists can unmute”.

An agency as large and complex as NJ Transit definitely knows how to run MS Teams meetings—in fact, the Senior Citizens and Disabled Residents Transportation Advisory Committee (SCDRTAC) does that monthly, run by NJ Transit staff—but somehow this forum was mishandled, and a large number of attendees were frustrated. Some managed to testify only by pasting their remarks into the chat feature to be read aloud by a staff person or simply collected for the record. Once this embarrassment was over, a large number of presenters discussed accessibility arrangements for various modes of NJ Transit transportation, from new software programs to equipment, and a lot of good information was shared. The closing portion was public Q&A, limited to the information just presented, which some found a frustrating limitation.

There is a second forum planned for the Fall, so watch the NJ Transit and Lackawanna Coalition Web sites, and the Railgram, to stay informed.

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