Local News

A research team at the University of Louisville is trying to improve public transportation for the disabled, and officials expect to conduct a national survey on the issue soon.

Nationwide, there are 2.7 million adult wheelchair and scooter users and that number is expected to rise as baby boomers enter senior years. Dr. Karen Frost has led research efforts at U of L the past several years to study accessibility to public transit for disabled riders.

Through a partnership with the Transit Authority of River City, the team has looked at how public transit can improve accessibility beginning with wheelchair ramps. A majority of incidents, 43 percent, experienced by wheelchair users occurred while using the wheelchair ramp.

“Most of the incidents in injuries with regards to wheel chairs were occurring not in the vehicle during transit, they were occurring when the wheelchair user was trying to access the vehicle,” said Frost.

TARC buses are equipped with ramps that allow wheelchair access, but Frost said about ten percent of the time, the ramp is too steep, over a 9 degree angle, exceeding federal regulations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The problem isn’t specific to TARC, she said.

Frost was granted $200,000 from the National Institute for Disability and Rehabilitation Research for the study last year. This includes a national survey to determine issues riders experience in all areas of the nation.

In Louisville, she uses a special device to measure angles of wheelchair ramps on buses and even looks at video provided by TARC, which has given Frost access to buses for research.

“TARC has been phenomenal in allowing us to study this problem in Louisville,” she said

The design by ramp manufacturers and the regulations under the ADA make it more difficult for disabled riders, she concluded.

Frost is getting final approval from U of L to conduct a national survey of disabled transit riders. When she releases the survey, which is expected at the end of this month, she’ll be able to get a broader perspective on the issue, she said.

This will then be used to help propose new ADA regulations and redesign ramps, with help from manufacturer Lift-U, which should better fit the disabled population.