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Accessible Transportation Q&A with Ken Rodgers and Finn McGarrity – Part 2

An equitable transportation system is a system that works for everyone. It’s now been 30 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed, promising inclusive systems and infrastructure that work for people of all abilities. This groundbreaking legislation has indisputably improved people’s lives—and transportation choices—for the better. And, at the same time, its vision is still being realized decades later. Here in Minnesota and across the nation, inaccessible streets and inadequate transit continue to create barriers for people with disabilities. More progress is needed.

Community Organizer, Finn McGarrity sat down with Move Minnesota’s Board Chair, Ken Rodgers, to reflect on the positive impacts of the ADA, his experiences, and why the fight for accessible transportation continues.

In part one of their conversation, Ken discussed learning how to use transit to find his independence again after losing his sight as an adult, the important role people with disabilities are playing to make Minnesota’s transportation system better and more accessible all the time, and the need for a system that really fits people lives and fully meets their needs rather than expecting people to work with limited choices.

Here, in part two, Ken dives deeper into what could make transportation more accessible in the future, the possibilities on the horizon, and the kind of movement that can bring about change.

Watch part two of their interview, or read the full transcript below. Thanks to Ken and Finn for the discussion!


FM: Speaking of COVID, we’re going to dig into that with our next question. So has your experience getting around changed at all this year during the pandemic or has COVID brought up other issues or solutions related to transportation accessibility? I know you touched on this a little bit, but if you could go into this a little bit more, I would love to hear your thoughts.

KR: So for me, personally, COVID has completely transformed my use of public transportation. As state workers ordered to telecommute to work from home, mid-march, and since that time, I have used public transportation once during that time. I really don’t leave my home very often if it’s not accompanied by my partner who is driving someplace, but I even prefer not to do grocery shopping – my partner does that. So this COVID stuff scares the heck out of me and I am an older person. I have some pre-existing conditions that put me at higher risk, so I don’t take unnecessary risks, and because of that – that has completely curtailed my use. I would daily pick up a bus on a corner, take it downtown, jump on the train go to my job, and at the end of the day reverse that and come back. I was every single day on the bus, so COVID completely modified the way that I get around. I do hope and want to work towards the day where we get some normalcy again. I don’t think I have any fear riding public transportation. Encountering people that don’t wear masks…I think in that realm I would just stay away from those individuals, but I think with the new cleaning protocols we have, it’s probably a much better system than we’ve ever had in the past. Today, with all these protocols in place, we know that the system is providing a much cleaner and healthier system. I think as we learn how to integrate that into our daily life, I’m really looking forward to the day we return back to being able to use public transportation as fully as we did pre-COVID.

One of the other committees I serve is an appointed member of the Citizen Advisory Committee for the Blue Line Extension work, and have been for several years. For the last year, we had been on hiatus because of the difficulties in trying to communicate with the Northern Canadian Railway, but we had recently reconvene and started up our committees again, and in hopes to find a new alignment for the Blue Line Extension. So, that work is started again and building infrastructure for people to access public transportation that don’t currently have the ability to do that on a frequent time frame really excites me. So, I’m really looking forward to building onto our system and providing much more opportunity for transit publicly again.

FM: Yeah, that’s really exciting work and I’m glad to hear that you’re going to be keeping the progress up with the Blue Line, cause I know that at Move Minnesota, we feel very passionately about making sure that progress forward and that folks in that region have more reliable and frequent transportation and access mobility.

And our next question:

So, with the ADA in place for decades, why are Americans still fighting for streets and transportation systems and communities that truly work for people of all abilities?

KR: In the early days, people with disabilities were kept out of the public eye. They were cared for, they were institutionalized, they were not generally out in the public. I think because of the ADA and the ability for people with disabilities to access infrastructure…slowly people with disabilities have emerged into the daily fabric of life everywhere. You cannot go anywhere today without seeing someone with a disability somewhere. I think that’s a testimony to the resiliency of people with disabilities and the ability of our infrastructure to adapt to make our infrastructure more accessible for people of all abilities – because of that – it’s sort of like the question “which comes first, the chicken or the egg?” – if you build it they will come. Well, if you make it accessible, people that need accessibility can use it and they’ll come. And I think that’s a really good way to look at our transportation system. As more and more people become mainstream, so to speak, and not afraid to be in public, and have the ability to access crossing the street whatever their ability is…have access to be able to board a train or a bus…as those barriers get removed there’s more and more ability for people to exercise their independence. And that leads to more ability to identify other barriers that can be addressed and taken care of. So, I think we’re in this era now of “We’re all in this together” and people can freely see when someone struggles to have access to something that nobody else has to struggle with. So, I think the awareness is growing from sort of this natural kind of perspective, albeit slow, but I think the more accessibility we build in our environment – especially in transportation – the more opportunity people have to learn how to use it and use it effectively. So, I think it is sort of a symbiotic relationship. We need more accessibility and we need correct accessibility for more people to be able to freely access their environment. The ADA has provided that.

FM: Absolutely, I 100% agree with you and I know we talked about complete streets work and thinking of that framework when we design. When we design and build environments in our public infrastructure to serve those who need to access it the most, or to build it in a fashion thinking ahead of us for the most accessibility, we know that it serves everyone else. Like you said, mothers with strollers…and when our streets are safe for people with disabilities to cross, it’s safer for children to cross, safer for cyclists. It’s the opposite of trickle-down, it’s like a trickle up, and everyone benefits when we build a society that’s just truly accessible.

So, next question here:

In your opinion what could make transportation more accessible in the future? In the disability rights and transportation conversations you’re part of here in Minnesota with your work at MnDOT, the Metropolitan Council, and in the Twin Cities, what changes or possibilities are on the horizon?

KR: A good way to summarize an answer to this question is in five important words, and it’s been known to be the mantra in the disability community and its “Nothing about us, without us.” I think that phrase really capitalizes my belief in how we build a better environment, how we build a better transit system and how we build a better infrastructure. We need everybody that’s affected by decisions, or by those systems, at the table to share thoughts and blend ideas to create the solution. You know, especially in our world today, that’s so politically adversarial – everybody has a polarizing spot. That doesn’t lend itself to thinking you know “Nothing about us, without us.” I think we need to start implementing that concept much wider, so that people can start to have success in those experiences, and that’s how we grow our own perspective. I don’t expect people to understand what it’s like in my world, I don’t at all. But I have a very different perspective because I lived in the regular world for a very long time and now live in this different world, which gives me a perspective that few people have. And I think that’s probably the motivation that I use to be so involved in indifferent boards and commissions on the work of advocacy.

FM: Absolutely, and again, I think you hit the nail on the head. That’s what I think Move Minnesota strives to do in the work that we’re building here with centering a transportation system around people and equity. We often act as liaison between planners and MnDOT, the Metropolitan Council…when we’re building this and we certainly have work to do, and through those agencies because we’re really just scratching at the surface and I think uncovering many decades that came from the opposite of the sentiment that you said which was “nothing about us, without us.” You know, a lot of able-body white men planning our roads and our freeways, and like the detriment thought that caused, and the marginalization that caused people of color people, to people living with disabilities, to women. We’ve seen that ripple effect and so I think that you’re absolutely one-hundred-percent correct with that. We really need to center that and how do we bring the margins to the center and make sure that everyone has a voice at the table, because we really do all lift each other up when we embody that. And so I really appreciate you bringing this to the conversation.

So, how can mobility and transit advocates show up in allyship with the disability community?

KR: You know, now it’s just the way we do business at Move Minnesota. When we talk about biking, walking, we always include rolling now as part of our language. It wasn’t long ago where rolling wasn’t a part of the language or part of our literature. But understanding that we have to make a welcoming environment for people that move in a different manner than the traditional biking and walking, or using transit. So, I think the language we use is critically important. We have to create an environment using language that describes and instills inclusivity, diversity, and acceptance. At least a willingness to go in those directions, and I think a language we use can provide that. If we do not use that language, we are not going to be welcoming to those communities that experience life differently. So, it’s going to take time, but using different language opens up the invitation to other communities to join our work. That kind of invitation to partake has to be in the things that we say and the things that we do and it has to be followed through. And I think that’s the strongest way and most sustainable way we build strong allyships with all of our communities, not just the disability community, but I think that’s the way forward.

FM: Definitely. I really appreciate your insight because we all have work to do in showing up as allies and making sure that folks who are most affected by accessibility issues or disabilities are leading the conversations. And we have to be active in making sure they’re there, so I really appreciate that.

Well, this has been an excellent conversation. Is there anything else you want people to know today? Anything you’d like to share, Ken?

KR: Two things: And one thing that was drilled in my head during my graduate school experience at the Humphrey was “For the good of everyone…For the common good.” That’s a really important phrase for me, and I think the other phrase is that “It’s the right thing to do.” We can talk about needs people have, and it can go in one ear and out the other. But when you think about that in terms of “for the common good,” when we improve everyone’s world, we improve our own world. It’s another similar concept. Again, I don’t believe today that the majority of people, once they are shown a different awareness, they have a strong choice. They can ignore it and that requires an intentional act of ignoring what they’ve been provided as an awareness – that’s one way to handle it. Or they can take that awareness and that perspective that they’ve learned, consider it under the the concept of “for the good of all” or “for the common good” and determine for themselves that it’s the right thing to do. We have laws that require that we do certain things, but no one likes to be told they have to do something. We do it best when it’s the right thing to do, and I think accessibility in our environment, in our transit system, is key for everyone having a better experience for the common good and it’s the right thing to do. I think those are really important pieces that I would like to leave everyone with. The intention should be for the common good because it’s the right thing to do, not because we’re forced or any other reason, but it’s because it’s the right thing to do.

FM: Absolutely. Ken, thank you so much for your time here today. I know as your colleague, working in this movement, I’m so grateful to be in this fight with you and working to advance mobility for all Minnesotans. I really appreciate your time today, thank you so much.

KR: And thank you for the hard work that you do every single day. I wouldn’t be involved if it weren’t for individuals like you who work every day to make our transit, environment, and our world a better place. Thank you.