Thursday, February 24, 2011

In Phoenix, new mobility center to aid disabled transit passengers

From The State Press:

A 40-foot bus housed inside a commercial building is just one of the “real-life” aspects of the new Valley Metro Mobility Center in Phoenix, where about 100 community members and stakeholders gathered Feb. 23 to celebrate the facility’s opening.

The new regional facility will make traveling easier for disabled passengers who may need extra assistance using the Valley’s transit system.

The center has an on-site staff to test disabled passengers’ use of the transit system in a controlled environment. Passing the test qualifies these passengers for transit certification under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which would allow them to travel independently using the Valley’s public transportation system.

Valley Metro customer service manager Scott Wisner said the facility will be used to evaluate individuals who want to qualify for ADA certification.

“An individual applying for ADA certification has to be interviewed, and based on information obtained from the interview or application, we can determine what kind of assessment might be needed,” Wisner said.

Three types of tests are given to prospective passengers based on their evaluation results, including a mobility assessment that uses different surfaces and slopes to see if the individual can maneuver themselves through the everyday obstacles presented by using the transit system.

The individual is also tested on whether they can travel up to three-quarters of a mile to a bus stop, and their cognitive ability is assessed through the Functional Assessment of Cognitive Transit Skills, or FACTS, test.

Cognitive assessment focuses on the ability to memorize and recall items, such as how to get on and off the bus and at which stop to exit the bus. The ability to do this individually grants the person a certificate from the ADA and more freedom to travel, Wisner said.

“The mobility center gives us a chance to show people how to use transit in a controlled setting without other people or moving traffic,” Wisner said. “We can get them started and then they can go out and do it in a real life setting. “

Valley Metro Chair and Tempe councilwoman Shana Ellis said circumstances and the needs of passengers will be considered on a case-by-case basis, leading to a more effective evaluation. With a realistic environment mimicking metropolitan Phoenix, the Valley Metro Mobility Center is equipped to prepare future riders for public transit use.

“There are a lot of barriers or preconceived notions people have [about public transit],” Wisner said. “Transit can be difficult to use; it’s a scary proposition for anyone that hasn’t used it and especially for someone with a disability. “

Phoenix resident Jeff Hansen, who uses a wheelchair because of complications from diabetes, said he has been a Valley Metro passenger since 2001 and has faced problems using the transit system in the past.

“I think drivers should spend a week in a wheelchair during the 100 degree weather,” he said while shaking his head.

Hansen said he prefers the Light Rail to using the bus because he is less dependent on operators and finds it easier to navigate.

Passengers like Hansen may benefit from the services at the mobility center and are being encouraged to visit.

“The opening of the center is an indication that the process has just begun,” said Jean Moriki, who is a member of the Phoenix Mayor’s Commission on Disability Issues and uses a wheelchair.

The Valley Metro Mobility Center will open Tuesday and begin evaluating potential transit users.