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Tennessee Addresses Accessible Transportation Barriers with New Law

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Signed into law on July 26, 1990, this landmark legislation increased access and opportunity for people with disabilities. Thanks to the ADA which provides equal access to public transportation, transportation is more accessible and affords more inclusion for individuals with disabilities. However, even with the tremendous progress of the last thirty years, transportation remains a top barrier to inclusion for people with disabilities and older adults.

According to the NADTC Transportation Needs and Assessment report, 8 in 10 non-drivers with a disability cannot do the activities or chores they need or like to because of transportation barriers. Transportation is the connection to every aspect of inclusion: access to health care, employment, social activities and connecting with friends, family and faith communities. On demand, accessible transportation is truly the means to freedom and independence.

Across the nation, federal, state and local entities are continuing the progress of the ADA in access and inclusion by improving the accessibility of transportation through enhancing coordination. In Tennessee, a coalition of disability, aging and transportation experts teamed up with legislative leaders to address better coordination with the goal of expanding and improving accessible transportation by introducing the Tennessee Accessible Transportation and Mobility Act of 2020. The effort was led by the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities, which engaged people who use or need accessible transportation throughout Tennessee as key advisors. The bill passed unanimously March 2020.

Two members of the Council on Developmental Disabilities with diverse life experiences and disabilities testified before the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee transportation to the common barriers they face in their communities and the need for expanded and improved accessible transportation.

  • Clancey Hopper of Lebanon, TN, lives in a relatively rural area. Clancey has a developmental disability that affects her spatial awareness and does not drive, but has a full time job at United Health Care and lives in her own apartment that is not walkable to the places she frequents like the store, church, her parents’ home or her job.
  • Martez Williams of Nashville, TN, lives in an urban center. Martez has a physical disability. He drives independently but relies on accessible parking, sidewalks, and other structures – for example, gas stations– to access his community.

Powerfully, Representative Darren Jernigan who is paraplegic testified as well, sharing with his fellow legislators the difficulties of navigating transportation every day.

Clancey Hopper, left, and Lauren Pearcy, center, listen as Martez Williams testifies before the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee.

What does the new law do?

The Tennessee Accessible Transportation and Mobility Act of 2020 creates a new office within the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) that will focus solely on accessible transportation and offer a new and sustained level of support to localities across the state. The new law requires  that by March 31, 2021, the office will produce and share with the Tennessee General Assembly:

  • A mission statement,
  • A five-year plan, and
  • The state’s first annual report about accessible transportation in Tennessee.

Critically, the law requires these activities to be informed by an advisory committee of stakeholders that includes both transportation, aging and disability experts and people who use accessible transportation. The new statewide office will work with a diverse advisory group to identify the state’s needs and solutions that can change over time. The law also advises government agencies to coordinate with TDOT toward the goal of expanding and improving accessible transportation and mobility across Tennessee, including state agencies that fund Medicaid (Tennessee Department of Health), Vocational Rehabilitation (Tennessee Department of Education) and American Job Centers (Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development).

 Next Steps

Now that the Office of Accessible Transportation has been established by law, TDOT has appointed a lead, Emily Duchac to the new office. Already, the office has offered competitive funding for Mobility Management programs operated by public transportation providers.  This will allow TDOT to leverage the existing Tennessee Association of Human Resources Agency model to coordinate mobility through regional mobility managers.  This statewide mobility management program has the goal of enhancing mobility and facilitating access to transportation in Tennessee, especially those with specialized transportation needs.

Going forward, the new office will work with a group of stakeholders to complete the mission statement, five-year plan, and first annual report.


Video of testimony:


Thanks to our guest blogger, Lauren Pearcy, Public Policy Director with the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities.

Heather Edmonds, National Aging and Disability Transportation Center (NADTC), contributed to this blog.


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