MTA’s Access-A-Ride Not so Accessible

The MTA’s Access-A-Ride program provides transportation services for the disabled but for some patrons, its translation capacities leave much to be desired. (MTA photo, via Flickr Creative Commons License)

Disabled people with limited English proficiency go through an ordeal when they apply for the Access-A-Ride (AAR) program because of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s inadequate translation service.

The organization New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) has been investigating the MTA for two years due to its failure to provide interpreters and translated materials to non-English speaking disabled and elderly passengers.

Jennifer Veloz of NYLPI’s Disability Rights program said the investigation began after the organization received numerous complaints and reports regarding language barriers encountered during the application process for AAR.

AAR offers transportation assistance – both shared and door-to-door – to disabled or retired individuals with ailments that prevent them from using trains and buses.

Veloz emphasized that thanks to preliminary results of the investigation, three common barriers that applicants face were identified.  The first is that one of the pages of the application states that AAR “does not provide translators. If necessary, you should bring your own translator.”

Another worrying aspect is that the evaluation process requires a lot of communication.

“People with limited English proficiency might not be able to convince AAR that they qualify. Without a translator, their possibilities diminish,” stressed Veloz.

The third obstacle is the difficulty of arranging trips; AAR’s Spanish-language telephone option doesn’t work very well. Moreover, they don’t offer services in other languages.

Puerto Rican Rosa Laureano, 70, has been using Access-A-Ride for for more than a decade but gets help from someone else to communicate with the dispatchers in English. (Photo by Zaira Cortés via El Diario-La Prensa)

Rosa Laureano, a 70-year-old Puerto Rican resident of East Harlem, said she has used AAR and the MTA’s services for the elderly for more than a decade. Laureano indicated that given the problems with communicating, the person who takes care of her organizes her trips.

“If I need a representative who speaks Spanish, the wait is so long that I would rather hang up,” said Laureano, who suffers from arthritis.

Iris Vázquez, a 67-year-old of Puerto Rican background, also experienced difficulties when requesting transportation assistance.

“Trying to use the Access-A-Ride program without access to my language only made me feel more limited,” said Vázquez, who lives in El Barrio.

AAR requires various kinds of information such as the date of the trip or the address of the destination. The same information is required for the return trip.

“A person with little to no English has a hard time answering a long list of questions. Situations of confusion come up frequently,” Vázquez added.

Deirdre K. Parker, spokeswoman for the MTA, said AAR and Central Command Center currently have Spanish-speaking staff that can solve service-related issues and assist customers when they make reservations.

Parker said the agency guarantees that people with limited English proficiency have access to AAR services and programs in their native language.

The MTA confirmed that it is in the process of developing and setting up an improved program for non-English speakers, and that AAR will include an exclusive translation service to help applicants and customers.

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