The $1.2 infrastructure bill that passed the Senate yesterday on a bipartisan 69-30 vote is not the law of the land. Not yet. It will still need to clear the House, which won’t be easy. But whatever the ultimate fate of this particular legislation, any trillion-dollar spending bill that can get 69 votes in the Senate is worth paying attention to, because it can tell us a little (maybe a lot) about the country’s priorities. There’s some encouraging news in this legislation regarding the priority that’s given to the concerns of amputees.
To be clear: The biggest impacts of this bill for the limb-loss community are no different from the impacts for everyone else. All Americans, including amputees, stand to benefit significantly from a modernized energy grid, cleaner water systems, safer roads, better transit, and more secure airports and ports. There’s some disagreement over the details of how to achieve those goals, but support for the broad objectives spans the entire political spectrum.
Our focus here is on a few line items that have particular significance for amputees and the public systems that serve and support them. Let’s dive in.
All Stations Accessibility Program (ASAP)
Championed by the only amputee in the US Senate, Tammy Duckworth, the ASAP provides $1.7 billion to bring transit stations into belated compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). A full 31 years after the ADA became law, thousands of subway stations, bus stops, commuter rail hubs, and similar facilities across the country remain inaccessible to people with mobility challenges. By upgrading those amenities, the ASAP will directly benefit thousands of amputees who navigate public transit using wheelchairs, crutches, and other assistive devices.
In a broader sense, the ASAP makes a powerful statement about the societal value of amputees and other people with disabilities. When Amplitude spoke with Senator Duckworth about the ASAP a couple of months ago, she told us ADA compliance has perennially been among transit managers’ top three to five priorities—but it’s never the top priority. Something else is always deemed more important, and therefore accessibility never gets funded. The ASAP advances the principle that people with disabilities are worth a major investment of public dollars. That’s a generalizeable principle which can be applied to other public systems, including health care, employment, education, and so forth.
Section 5310 Transit Systems
The legislation provides $2 billion for the Department of Transportation’s Section 5310 programs, which provide mobility services for people with disabilities and seniors. These funds can help address the needs of the many amputees who forgo prosthetic care because they lack the ability to get to their clinic.
While the ASAP funding applies specifically to ADA compliance for transit systems that serve the whole public, the 5310 programs support paratransit systems that go above and beyond the ADA. These include access-a-ride vans and buses, on-call mobility services, ride-share initiatives, and vanpools. They’re particularly important in small cities and rural areas with highly dispersed populations. An infusion of $2 billion would more than double the programs’ reach, beefing up existing 5310 services and supporting innovations that could amplify their impact even further.
Safe Streets for All
Traffic, pedestrian, and bicycle accidents cause thousands of amputations every year. Furthermore, people with disabilities (including limb loss) are at elevated risk of being injured in a traffic- or pedestrian related accident. As safe-streets advocate (and below-knee amputee) Damian Kevitt put it in Amplitude‘s March edition, “The US compared to other [developed] countries is the most dangerous country in the world.”
The infrastructure bill earmarks $5 billion to address this whole suite of issues. The funds will pay for everything from safer intersections and curbs to better road markings, driver education and training programs, hazard elimination, and first-responder upgrades. It will also vastly expand the collection of data about crashes involving pedestrians, giving safety officials more ability to identify gaps and protect vulnerable populations.
Amtrak Disability Advocate
Admittedly, Amtrak ridership isn’t particularly high on the list of amputee concerns. But we’re still encouraged by the infrastructure bill’s establishment of a permanent seat on the Amtrak Board of Directors for a dedicated disability advocate. Like the ASAP, this provision asserts the broad principle that people with disabilities matter, and that their voice belongs at the center of discussions about public investment and services. It aligns with and reinforces the broader trend toward inclusion of disability perspectives in the workplace, media, athletics, and other domains.
This step is particularly fitting in the case of Amtrak, which has become notorious for its negligence toward passengers with disabilities. Earlier this year it began paying a multimillion-dollar settlement to riders who were unable to board trains, enter stations, or even purchase tickets due to accessibility obstacles. The addition of a disability advocate represents a new direction for an institution that has long ignored accessibility—a precedent that we hope will be copied elsewhere.