Access Report


In my continuing story line on problems of accessibility relating to those of us with disabilities, specifically of a physical nature, I have devoted much coverage to the matter of transportation. Through my personal involvement along with the information I have gained by talking to others who are also seniors and/or people with disabilities, I have learned that transportation is a complex problem without a simple solution.

I will first address a problem that occasionally exists with our own CHA transportation system: the availability of busses and other vehicles with wheelchair lifts to transport those of us who are residents of senior housing developments to various activities. I will use as examples two occasions within one month – on Saturday, June 21, when some residents of my Eckhart Park senior housing development attended a performance of the gospel play “Perilous Times” at the Arie Crown Theatre in McCormick Place, and on Wednesday, July 8, when the Eckhart Park Traveling Club attended its monthly lunch outing at the Country Buffet restaurant in Vernon Hills.

On both occasions, I had to get out of my wheelchair and maneuver the steps on the regular school bus which transported us. I am able to accomplish this maneuver but with great difficulty. During the lunch outing, I was scheduled to provide entertainment to the group as a singer.

CTA Paratransit Operations and many other services providing transportation for seniors or those with disabilities are having difficulties finding enough drivers to operate their accessible vehicles and other problems. Over a period of less than 2 months, I experienced 4 pick-ups in which the driver was more than 1 hour.

In letters to Nancy Isaac, General Manager of CTA Paratransit Operations, I related all of these plus other failings of the carrier I use, Cook-Dupage Transportation (CDT). I wrote to Isaac about how often CDT had failed to pick me up within 30 minutes of the scheduled pick-up time. After each incident of extreme lateness, I telephoned Nora Mitchner of CTA Paratransit, who has been given the responsibility along with CDT head Chris Jans of monitoring my trips.

Each time I wrote to Isaac, I received a reply in which she provided important information. Along with my telephone conversations with Mitchner, I was also contacted by telephone by Jason Houston of CDT on July 14 and by Josh Leon of CTA Paratransit on July 20. So it has become obvious to me that some attention is being given to the deficiencies I have experienced.

Leon’s contact was most interesting. He advised me that CTA Paratransit carriers are penalized for any pick-ups over 30 minutes late and receive the maximum penalty for pick-ups that arrive 60 minutes or more late. Leon said the amount of this maximum penalty is $150. Since CTA Paratransit receives funding through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in order to operate its transportation system, penalties for lateness are deducted from the amount of total funding for each carrier. For just my four trips which were late by 60 minutes each, CDT suffered a loss of $600. This loss must be considered very serious, especially because my cost for each of these trips was just $1.35, the price of a CTA token. For all 45 trips which I took from May 1 through July 19) which totals and of my cost), my total cost was $60.75.

I was first required to use vehicles with wheelchair lifts or ramps in July 1993 after being discharged from nearly 3 months of hospitalization. For my second medical outpatient visit on July 30, 1993, I first used a medical transportation service which regular insurance plans will not cover but I was able to use because I had temporary medical coverage through the Illinois Department of Public Aid. I began using CTA Paratransit in December, 1993, after becoming certified by the Regional Transportation Authority. When I reached age 65 last November, I began to be contacted by insurance companies who work with Medicare.

A little more than 2 months ago, I began to use a medical transportation service through an insurance company under the provisions of Medicare. Through my use of this service, I discovered that they have difficulty in obtaining drivers. It was conveyed to me as a problem confronted by CDT Paratransit. In my conversations with an analyst with the Illinois Department of Employment Security, she told me that the problem is that drivers and other transportation personnel are not being paid enough and with our outstanding economy, competent drivers are able to obtain higher paying employment with minimal difficulty.

In discussing this problem with others, I have learned that many who need the service will quickly give up and call a taxi cab or use an alternative service. Many others have become complacent and accept the existing service as is, using it only for emergencies.

With the number of seniors who receive Medicaid benefits through Public Aid and who will only use transit services for medical purposes, the problems of the service are not as obvious per total usage. CTA Paratransit is able to schedule a total of 4200 trips per day per its operating budget and the number of requests received unfortunately exceeds this amount. Obviously, the complexity of the problem requires more study and hopefully more viable solutions will be reached.

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Access Report


In this continuing series of stories on the subject of access for the disabled residents of CHA, I have learned some interesting facts: the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been law for more than seven years but lack of compliance to its rules and regulations remains a significant factor. Federally funded housing such as that provided by CHA has been rather slow in implementing access measures and it is very difficult to determine who or what specific entity may be blamed for these infractions. Read more »

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Access Report


I moved into a Chicago Housing Authority senior housing development on March 30, 1996. I had never resided in CHA housing prior to my move last year and the move was the result of my becoming disabled and needing to use a wheelchair in April of 1993. I was age 60 when this occurred and was 63 when I made the transition from regular private housing to CHA housing; I was no longer able to be employed and being in a fixed income status made me unable to afford the private housing lifestyle I had been accustomed to prior to my disability.

Without a ramp, this sidewalk on the Near North Side becomes a cliff for individuals who use wheelchairs. Photo by Thomas Merriweather

I received a referral to senior housing in early March 1996 and the building I was sent to only had vacancies on the 14th floor, which the manager of the building believed to be unsatisfactory because of my wheelchair situation. I was advised that when an apartment on a lower floor became available (and some were vacant but not ready for occupancy), I would be able to move into one of these. As it stands, an apartment on a lower floor could not become available on a timely basis and I was referred a few weeks later to my current development where a vacancy did exist on the second floor.

The purpose for a lower-floor occupancy for persons who use wheelchairs is that in the event of a fire, it is easier to remove such residents from the premises if they are on lower floors. But routine problems of elevators frequently being out of order are not being addressed on a timely, consistent basis. At the time of the writing of this story, there were breakdowns of both elevators in my Eckhart Park Greenview building twice over a period of less than 24 hours. Residents who are able to walk were forced to use the stairs, which are located at one end of the building and therefore inconvenient for a large number of residents who are unable to walk.

The missing ramps between the buildings in CHA's Eckhart Park development make mobility difficult for residents with disabilities. Photo by Thomas Merriweather

On July 24, 1997, at Navy Pier in Chicago, Access Chicago, the first exposition sponsored by the Mayor’s Office on People With Disabilities, was conducted between the hours of 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. While attending this exposition, I was able to visit several of the exhibit booths and obtain much useful information, including certain requirements for accessibility of CHA buildings. According to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines, all CHA buildings and residences are to be accessible to occupants who may be in wheelchairs or use other means to transport themselves. This applies to closet spaces and other storage areas in the apartments. It should also apply to other facilities in the housing developments and an example might be mailboxes, etc.

These mailboxes are out of reach for those who use wheelchairs for mobility. Photo by Thomas Merriweather

In a previous story, I revealed that in the area between the two buildings of the Eckhart Park development, there are no ramps to accommodate residents in wheelchairs who may be traveling between the buildings. At a residents meeting on Sept. 26, the development manager announced that improvements this fall will include the replacement of those missing ramps along with such other improvements as the installation of handicapped accessible doors for the entrances into the buildings.

Other ongoing problems of inaccessibility have been the lack of availability of appropriate vehicles to transport disabled individuals to various activities as sponsored by CHA, the City of Chicago or other agencies.

As cited in an earlier story, I discovered that the availability of accessible vehicles to transport wheelchair-using residents is limited and only available when requests for such vehicles is made by a sufficient number of disabled residents. I also discovered that CHA has only a single accessible bus available to residents and that this is only used to transport residents who use wheelchairs from one development to any other development for a particular activity.

This closet in a CHA senior apartment is out of reach for those who use wheelchairs for mobility. Photo by Thomas Merriweather

In my first story for RJ in the winter issue, I related some unfortunate incidents I had experienced in using CTA Paratransit Operations and as I write this story, I continue to experience these less than satisfactory incidents.

In preparing for this story, I talked to two residents who use wheelchairs in my Greenview Avenue building on this subject of accessibility. The first resident expressed general satisfaction in her five years as a resident of the development but has had no need to use other than medical transportation since she only travels for this purpose. When asked about CTA Paratransit Operations, she said she has never used the service but that all she has heard about it is on the negative side.

The other resident, an occupant of more than 15 years, complained about not being able to ever reach a CTA Paratransit carrier during her attempts to call in order to schedule trips. The resident said that a busy signal was all that could be received on those failed attempts and that a telephone with the automatic redialing feature was not available to her.

I explained her the procedure I have been following for over 2 years which involves dialing the direct number to the carrier I use and pressing the automatic redial button back and forth with the dial tone button until I am finally able to get through to an operator to request my trips. I explained that this procedure sometimes will require up to about 40 minutes but that I will eventually reach an operator and then schedule my trips for the next day.

CTA Paratransit Operations does maintain a 1-800 number which should eliminate the need to call a carrier directly and receive a busy signal and even when such calls are made when the service opens at 5 am weekdays and 6 am weekends. I recently tried to use this number and all I received was a busy signal. Some obvious improvement is needed here and in the entire system.

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Inaccessibility of CHA Developments


The Americans With Disabilities Act was established to address a problem which affects 19.4 percent of the U.S. population. The act attempts to create accessibility and opportunities for this disabled community, to level the playing field and therefore eliminate those barriers which exist and which have become glaring in the light of multiple negative factors to be considered in our society. I have learned during my preparation for this story that there are several problems which are difficult to address and factors of inaccessibility which are difficult to overcome.

I interviewed two key officials of the City of Chicago in order to obtain some answers to what I had earlier encountered as some serious problems of accessibility. On June 4, I interviewed Donald R. Smith, Commissioner of the Chicago Department on Aging, and a week later, on June 11, I interviewed Lawrence J. Gorski, director of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. Read more »

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