Graphic: The Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement

Dennis Cannon

Audio transcript: On the relationship between transportation advocacy and the disability rights movement in the mid to late seventies
Date: December 10, 2001
Interviewer: Fred Pelka

Note: Transcripts have been lightly edited; therefore there may be slight discrepancies with audio clips.

Now we're talking maybe the 1970s, the mid to the late 1970s. How was transportation advocacy related to the larger disability rights movement?

Transportation was always seen as a big component to everything. It was like, you know, accessible housing was great, but if you couldn't get from your housing to your job, and you couldn't get around, and you couldn't move here and there, and you—you know, that it sort of didn't matter that your house was accessible if you couldn't get to your employment, or that your employment was accessible, it didn't matter if you couldn't get out to shopping. So there was a lot of work on, you know, accessibility of the physical environment, but it was generally acknowledged that transportation was a key issue in all of the accessibility, that without transportation, you were not going to make big strides. You had to connect the dots, as it were, and make sure that everything was together. The federal government was giving away lots of money and so it seemed reasonable that the federal government should have a hand in pushing this. Of course the federal government didn't have a hand, for the most part in doing it. DOT [Department of Transportation], well, the Federal Transit Administration, to this day still views itself as a funding agency, not a regulatory agency. And so its whole thesis is, you know, "Our goal is to get money out to the folks to build better transit systems, not to necessarily enforce regulations."

You talked about the practical importance of the issue. Is there a symbolic importance to it, as well?

Probably. It makes people more visible. I remember when we talked about in L.A., about, you know, well, it's silly to put lifts on buses because nobody can get to the buses anyway. And even if you made the streets accessible, people wouldn't be able to get anywhere. One of these round robin, chicken and the egg things. I noticed it as—and I pointed this out periodically to people in the agency, who eventually came around, that curb ramps started appearing. And where you never saw anybody in a wheelchair before out on the streets, especially in downtown L.A., all of a sudden, you started seeing people. You could see one everyday, at least one, on your way to work. The whole idea of people getting out and moving around as the environment became more accessible proved that they were more likely to be there. So one of our issues was if you—we didn't have "Field of Dreams" then—but, you know, if you provide it, they will come. If you put the buses out there, then they will come, and people will build accessibility.

End of transcript

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