When Heather and Garland Armstrong want to go anywhere – a doctor’s appointment, a volunteer opportunity, a public meeting – it takes a lot more planning. As a disabled couple, Heather and Garland have to research train and bus times, map transfer points, and contact paratransit services to find a way to get where they are going that will accommodate their needs.
Sometimes that means it takes them hours to get somewhere by riding the train into Chicago and then back out to a different suburb. Sometimes it means Garland pushes Heather’s wheelchair in the street because there are no sidewalks. Sometimes it means they are stranded because they can’t find an accessible taxi.
“It’s frustrating,” Heather said. “It gets hard sometimes.”
But the difficulties they face finding accessible transportation options don’t stop Heather and Garland. They are vocal members of the disability community, attending and often testifying at monthly meetings of transit service agencies and participating in regional committees to improve conditions.
“A lot of people cannot speak up, so they need someone to stand up for their rights,” Heather said.
For many who have never been disabled or had close experience with a member of the disability community, it’s too easy to overlook their challenges, Garland explained. But that’s even more reason for the couple to stay vocal, reminding decision makers and other residents of the Chicago region that our transportation network needs to accommodate all -- including the region's aging population, which will face its own mobility challenges in decades to come.
Access becomes an economic issue as well. Residents with disabilities have an unemployment rate that is twice that of those without disabilities. A significant number of people with disabilities cite lack of transportation as a barrier to employment.
“We want to be independent and do what the general public does, but our bodies can’t do what everyone else can do,” Garland said. “We need to keep fighting.”