There was a protest in the Loop today. This time, the issue was how well the CTA was serving disabled riders.
Americans Disabled for Accessible Public Transportation (ADAPT) had been staging protests in various cities. In Illinois, the group had filed complaints against the CTA. The matter was now before the state Human Rights Commission.
ADAPT wanted hydraulic wheelchair lifts put on all new buses. CTA said the $15,000-per-bus cost would break its budget. Now ADAPT was planning to take action on the State Street Mall during the noon lunch break.
Ar 11:30 CTA officials and a dozen cops arrived at the scene. They wanted to avoid a confrontation. So when ADAPT protesters began arriving, CTA manager Michael Lavelle ordered bus drivers on State to skip the Madison stop.
“We’re trying to stop a disruption of service,” Lavelle told reporters. But after ten minutes, the police asked that the buses be allowed to stop. Lavelle agreed.
By now, 14 ADAPT members were on hand. When the first bus opened its doors, the first disabled person lifted himself out of his wheelchair, and slowly crawled up the steps. The process was repeated with other buses and other passengers. For some people, boarding took as long as seven minutes.
The protest ended, and bus traffic along State resumed its normal pace. Both sides put their own spin on the matter.
CTA’s Lavelle said ADAPT’s demonstration “accomplished nothing other than to prove they know how to disrupt traffic.” He pointed out that CTA’s dial-a-ride service was providing 200 rides a day, and that number was going to be doubled.
ADAPT was not convinced. “This just goes to show the extent they will go to stop us from riding,” a spokesman said. “They’re embarrassed. They don’t want their riders to know the truth.”
The accessibility debate continue for the rest of the decade. There were more protests, investigations, and court injunctions. In 1990, when the Americans With Disabilities Act became law, many of the problems were addressed.
Three decades after the State Street demonstration, CTA boasts that all its bus routes, and the majority of its rapid transit stations, are handicap accessible. And ADAPT is still around and active.