In March 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act stalled in Congress. Though it had bipartisan support and had already passed the Senate, it got bottled up in the House.

To break the logjam and dramatize the barriers confronting disabled people, it was reported at the time that dozens of disabled persons — including many who abandoned their wheelchairs — protested by literally crawling up the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

“I want my civil rights,” said one of the protesters. “I want to be treated like a human being.”

The ADA soon became the law of the land. But enforcement can sometimes still fall woefully short.

As Civil Beat reported last week, many users of Honolulu’s paratransit service suffer through waits as long as 45 minutes to reach a Handi-Van operator. Amazingly, there is no online reservation system.

The Handi-Van.
Honolulu’s Handi-Van service is long overdue for major upgrades, starting with phone reservations. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The Handi-Van, which is operated by the city of Honolulu through the private nonprofit vendor Oahu Transit Services (the same company that runs city buses), lacks adequate phone and reservation software to assist riders. System crashes are not uncommon. At least one user has filed a civil rights complaint with the federal government.

This is not Handi-Van’s only challenge. Pick-up and drop-off times are sometimes delayed. Some vehicles should have long ago been replaced, certainly before they catch on fire while in service, as has happened. And OTS has been faulted for accepting too many subscription rides — that is, scheduled stops for service agencies — which has led to fewer individual rides.

The city auditor is expected to release a new report later this month on Handi-Van, measuring how well it met the goals of the last audit three years ago. But the Honolulu City Council and mayor should  move now to fix the phone-line problem. That system should allow some riders to book online or with a smartphone. And it may require increasing fares above $2, which is where the rate has remained since 1991.

Signing up for Handi-Van is not the same as catching TheBus, a taxi or ride-hailing service. Users must be approved through an interview process that requires the necessary paperwork. The van serves more than one user at a time. And, while it does not provide ambulance or emergency service, Handi-Van drivers may also need to provide additional assistance such as door-to-door service.

Most critically, the several thousand people served by Handi-Van are among our most vulnerable population. After Civil Beat’s story ran, one of those writing to us was a reader whose 94-year-old mother recently began using Handi-Van.

“I have been shocked at the lack of efficiency provided to our kupuna and disabled community members,” she emailed, adding about the waiting time for the van itself, “Can you imagine how dehydrated she was when Oahu experienced record breaking temperatures in September?”

This is a moral outrage. But it is also in violation of the law — specifically, Title II of ADA policy.

As a recipient for federal financial assistance, the city’s Department of Transportation Services must ensure that OTS fully complies with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s ADA regulations. Instead, under the antiquated reservation system, DTS and OTS may well be denying benefits.

Not long after the “Capitol crawl,” as the protest was called, President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into law. What he said back then should be heeded by our municipal leaders today:

And now I sign legislation which takes a sledgehammer to another wall, one which has for too many generations separated Americans with disabilities from the freedom they could glimpse, but not grasp. Once again, we rejoice as this barrier falls for claiming together we will not accept, we will not excuse, we will not tolerate discrimination in America.

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