Many thanks to those who joined us on October 8 for “History and Future of Accessible Transportation: From Exclusion to Autonomy.” More than 90 attendees logged in to this event via Zoom.
After opening remarks from Mariruth Leftwich, Director of Learning at Heinz History Center, and Mary Hartley, Project Director of the Western Pennsylvania Disability History and Action Consortium, long-time transportation advocate John Tague gave an overview of how accessible transportation is essential to independence for people with disabilities.
Following these remarks, the Consortium premiered the first video in its Voices of Change multimedia history series, featuring the life of transportation advocate Paul Dick. The video, with closed captions, is available below.
The first panel featured Holly Dick, Committee for Accessible Transportation (CAT) member and former ACCESS Community Liaison; Karen Hoesch, Executive Director of ACCESS Transportation Systems, and Paul O’Hanlon, disability rights attorney. The panel explored the community-driven history of paratransit in Allegheny County.
Following reflections on the barriers that people with disabilities faced in transportation prior to the 1970s, the panel discussed the development of “Magic Carpet,” a grassroots paratransit service created by Pittsburghers with disabilities. The partnership between local transportation advocates and the Port Authority contributed significantly to the development of ACCESS, a first-of-its-kind model paratransit service.
The panel also discussed the impact of federal laws such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA on advocates’ collaboration with the local Port Authority. The discussion begins at 17:07 in the recording.
The second panel featured academic and industry experts in the fields of autonomous vehicle research and development, mobility studies, and robotics that support the independence of people with disabilities. Dr. Rory Cooper of the University of Pittsburgh; Dr. Rebecca Grier, member of the executive council for the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society and chair of the SAE Taskforce on User Issues for Persons with Disabilities, and Dr. Aaron Steinfeld of Carnegie Mellon discussed successes in and barriers to developing technology that meets the needs of all users with disabilities. Topics included wheelchair securements, the concept of the “complete trip,” affordability, and smart learning of preferred routes and schedules. This discussion begins at 58:23 in the recording.
To wrap up the evening, panelists came together for a discussion of the role of advocacy and collaboration as technology develops, and a call for user input to achieve functional solutions for people with disabilities.
The recording of the event with closed captioning is available below:
Full biographies of the panelists in this video:
- Rory A. Cooper, Ph.D. is FISA Foundation & Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) Distinguished Professor at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt). Cooper is Founder-Director and VA Senior Research Career Scientist of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories a VA Rehabilitation R&D Center. Dr. Cooper is an adjunct professor of Robotics at Carnegie Mellon University, and Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences. Cooper has authored or co-authored over 375 peer-reviewed journal publications and has more than 30 patents awarded or pending.
- Holly Dick became legally blind at the age of six. During her 44 years of marriage to E. Paul Dick, a noted disability advocate, she worked closely with him as a member of the 504 Advisory Committee and its successor, the Committee for Accessible Transportation (CAT), of which she is still a member. A former ACCESS Community Liaison, Dick retired in 2012. Since 2015, she has been a member of the City of Pittsburgh’s Planning Commission. She currently serves on advisory committees to the Allegheny County Area Agency for the Aging and the Port Authority of Allegheny County, among others.
- Rebecca A. Grier, PhD. is a UX (user experience) researcher with 20 years of experience in a wide variety of business sectors including healthcare, defense, telecommunications, and automotive. She has worked on the design of numerous disruptive technologies including augmented reality, smart phones, and autonomous vehicles. Dr. Grier is on the executive council for the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society and chairs the SAE Taskforce on Identifying ADS-DV (Autonomous Driving System – Dedicated Vehicle) User Issues for Persons with Disabilities.
- Karen Hoesch is Executive Director of ACCESS Transportation Systems. In this capacity she oversees the daily operation of ACCESS, one of the largest paratransit brokerage programs in the United States. ACCESS, sponsored by Port Authority of Allegheny County, is known for its high level of coordination and its ADA paratransit eligibility determination process, which is a national model. She has conducted technical assistance and workshops on the ADA and transportation coordination for transit agencies and statewide public transit association conferences. Karen has been with ACCESS since 1979.
- Paul W. O’Hanlon is a 1979 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. For 14 years, he worked for a disability rights law firm where he specialized in housing, voting, and transportation. Before that, O’Hanlon was Senior Housing Attorney with Neighborhood Legal Services Association in Pittsburgh, where he worked for more than twenty years. O’Hanlon has served in a leadership capacity on several local state and local disability advisory bodies, as well as non-partisan voting coalitions. He is active in local advocacy efforts concerning disability, poverty, housing, transportation and voting issues.
- Aaron Steinfeld, PhD. is an Associate Research Professor at The Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. His specialties are human-robot interaction and advanced transportation. He is interested in how to enable timely and appropriate interaction when interfaces are restricted through design, tasks, the environment, time pressures, and/or user abilities. He utilizes training and experience in robotics, intelligent transportation, rehabilitation, human factors and ergonomics, human-computer interaction, universal design, and research methods. Examples of past work includes human-machine interaction and interfaces for robots, advanced transportation, machine learning systems, and software agents.