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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis April 6, 2012
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DOL Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Addresses Embassy Roundtable
BY JULIA WALKER, APTA Program Manager-International Programs

A critical part of public transportation is its role in improving the lives of seniors and persons with disabilities. At the March 22 Public Transportation Embassy Roundtable, hosted by APTA, Assistant Secretary of Labor Kathleen Martinez spoke about this critical element of the industry. Lifelong disability rights advocate Michael Winter, senior program analyst, International Research Office, Federal Transit Administration, moderated the event, which was attended by representatives of foreign embassies.

In 2009, President Obama nominated Martinez, who has been blind since birth, to head the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. While discussing the many federal employment programs that support the productivity of persons with disabilities and seniors, she concluded, however: “Even the best employment program doesn’t work if people cannot get to work.”

Martinez explained how transportation affects many aspects of one’s livelihood, such as access to health care services, housing, and childcare. A lack of affordable, reliable public transportation, she reiterated, results in a failure of an employment system.

As the workforce ages, she said, more and more people will acquire disabilities and will need assistance to move from one place to another. Federal agencies are preparing for this situation by looking for ways to partner and enhance funding for accessible services, since there is an undeniable link between jobs and transportation.

As an example, Martinez described the United We Ride program to the international audience. The purpose of this federal interagency initiative and partnership of more than 10 government agencies is to improve the availability and quality of transportation services for persons with disabilities, the elderly, and lower-income residents.

Embassy representatives from Korea, India, Japan, France, England, Taiwan, and the Netherlands also shared experiences from their countries on the coordination of transportation and employment for persons with disabilities. All these countries are facing growth in their aging populations as people live and work longer, so they are continually searching for ways to implement regulations and policies to reduce mobility barriers.

The conclusion reached after the interactive meeting was that the connection between transportation and employment for persons with disabilities and the elderly is global. While nations may address and explore disability rights, policies, and services in different ways, it is evident that attitudes toward people with disabilities and the elderly are changing all across the world. That, the participants agreed, is the most crucial step to take in advancing the rights of transportation and employment for all.

Photo by Mitch Wood

Michael Winter and Kathleen Martinez, at end of table, introduce the history of the U.S. disability rights movement to foreign embassy representatives.
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