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Implementing the U.S. DOT Reasonable Modification Rule (2019)

Chapter: Chapter 5 - Summary of Major Synthesis Findings and Suggestions for Further Research

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Page 75
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 5 - Summary of Major Synthesis Findings and Suggestions for Further Research." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Implementing the U.S. DOT Reasonable Modification Rule. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25430.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 5 - Summary of Major Synthesis Findings and Suggestions for Further Research." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Implementing the U.S. DOT Reasonable Modification Rule. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25430.
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Page 76
Page 77
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 5 - Summary of Major Synthesis Findings and Suggestions for Further Research." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Implementing the U.S. DOT Reasonable Modification Rule. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25430.
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Page 77

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75 Current State of the Practice The transit agencies that responded to the survey are considering and responding to requests for reasonable modifications. Each of the 43 agencies that responded has either a formal or informal policy or procedure for addressing reasonable modification requests. These transit agencies are informing staff, contract staff, customers, and potential customers about their rea- sonable modification policy and procedure through a variety of approaches. Customers can submit requests through a variety of means. Most transit agencies ask that requests be submit- ted in advance, with the recommended timeframe varying widely. Requests received in advance may be evaluated by a single individual at some transit agencies and by multiple individuals at others. Vehicle operators are empowered to make ad hoc decisions at a majority of transit agen- cies, with the rest requiring that the operator ask dispatch, a supervisor, or a manager. Lack of documentation of reasonable modification requests, particularly for ad hoc requests, appears to be a common issue. (However, reasonable modifications may be embedded in other general customer service request documentation. It should also be noted that the rule does not require documentation of requested modifications.) Requests for specific vehicle types are among the most frequent request types. Based on the survey responses and case examples, it appears that most of the responding case examples fol- low the U.S. DOT guidance in considering this type of request to be a fundamental alteration of service. Only one agency noted that they try to accommodate this type of request when they can (but do not guarantee that the customer will be served with their preferred type of vehicle). Issues Identified Several issues with implementation were raised through the survey responses and case exam- ples. Currently, documentation of reasonable modifications appears to be inconsistent. With better documentation, more issues may potentially be identified. Although implementation issues were raised through the survey responses and case examples, almost half of the survey responses indicated that their transit agency had not experienced challenges in implement- ing their reasonable modification policy/process to date (at the time they completed the sur- vey), while about one-third experienced multiple types of challenges. About a quarter of the responding transit agencies identified challenges in the time involved in processing requests is a challenge. Some experienced difficulty in evaluating whether or not a requested modifica- tion would constitute a fundamental alteration of service (this was the most frequent response, with more than one-quarter of the respondents indicating) or a direct threat to the health and C H A P T E R 5 Summary of Major Synthesis Findings and Suggestions for Further Research

76 Implementing the U.S. DOT Reasonable Modification Rule safety of others, or whether, without the requested modification, the individual with a disability is able to use the transit system’s services, programs, or activities for their intended purpose. Because the circumstances for each request are highly individualized, depending on the nature of each person’s disability, the circumstances of each trip origin and destination, and the regu- lar transit operating policies, each request must be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, and “one size fits all” guidance may not be possible for many types of requests. The case-by-case nature of considering reasonable modification requests can also present a challenge in perceptions of arbitrariness or subjectivity in the decision making. Lessons Learned, Opportunities, and Challenges in Implementation A significant number of the transit agencies that responded to the survey indicated that their transit agency experienced benefits in implementation of the reasonable modification final rule, including the ability to meet more transportation needs. Some transit agencies reported in the survey that, as a result of fixed-route modifications, existing ADA paratransit riders have shifted some of their travel from paratransit to fixed route. A shift from using ADA paratransit to fixed route for some trips can be significant both to the passenger, in terms of increased independence and not having to pre-schedule trips in advance, and to the transit system, because it is generally far less costly to provide a fixed passenger trip than an ADA paratransit trip. The six case examples reported the following as useful elements in their approach to con- sidering requests for reasonable modification requests: • Taking a proactive approach for identifying needs for reasonable modifications, including the paratransit eligibility process as well as reviewing complaints, incident reports, and ad hoc requests; • Using a decision tree to evaluate requests; • Reaching out to other organizations in the community to help with work-arounds; • Collaborating with other organizations to educate their customers about the reasonable modification policy; • Educating staff on how to make routine decisions; • Consulting with other persons in the transit agency to help evaluate the request, including operations and legal for some requests; • Ensuring that approved requests are on the driver’s manifest; • Building extra time into the driver’s schedule for requests that need additional time; • Providing a method for operators to communicate ad hoc requests; and • Reviewing requests on a regular basis to determine if changes to regular policies may be warranted. Based on the survey responses and the six case examples, documentation of reasonable modi- fication requests, particularly ad hoc requests, is an effort which transit agencies may not con- sistently address. Sometimes this is because such requests are documented as customer service requests rather than requests for reasonable modifications. This suggests an opportunity to increase documentation which could be useful for reviewing reasonable requests to determine if changes are warranted to regular policies. However, added documentation could increase the administrative burden on a transit agency. Other challenges noted by a case example participant include the time involved in process- ing requests, and difficulties in determining whether or not a modification would constitute a fundamental alteration of service or a direct threat to the health or safety of others.

Summary of Major Synthesis Findings and Suggestions for Further Research 77 Suggestions for Further Research Identification of best practices that would be potentially helpful include practices in deter- mining whether or not a requested modification would constitute a fundamental alteration of service or a direct threat to the health and safety of others, and how to determine whether or not, without the requested modification, the individual with a disability could use the tran- sit system service. A compilation of practices in documentation of reasonable modification requests, particularly ad hoc requests, could be useful to industry practitioners The topic of reasonable modification could also be studied from a legal perspective, and case law regarding this topic could be explored and analyzed. Reasonable modification and/or implementation of origin-to-destination paratransit service may be good candidates for a future research project.

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TRB’s Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) Synthesis 142: Implementing the U.S. DOT Reasonable Modification Rule provides an overview of the current state of practice regarding transit systems implementation of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) regulation 49 C.F.R Part 37.

The report describes the experiences of agencies as they make reasonable modifications to their practices and policies in order to both respond to the regulation and ensure service to people with disabilities. The report also includes case examples of six transit systems, which present an in-depth analysis of the issues, opportunities, challenges, lessons learned, and keys to success in implementation of reasonable modifications . The need for future research is also discussed.

Under the U.S. DOT regulations for implementing the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (49 C.F.R. Parts 37 and 27), transportation service providers and recipients of federal funding are required to ensure their services do not discriminate against people with disabilities.

In 2015, the U.S. DOT amended 49 C.F.R. Parts 27 and 37 to require transportation entities to make “reasonable modifications/accommodations to policies, practices, and procedures to avoid discrimination and ensure that their programs are accessible to individuals with disabilities.” Effective July 13, 2015, 49 C.F.R. §37.169 of this final rule requires that public entity transit providers develop their own processes for making decisions and for providing reasonable modifications to their policies and practices.

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