ADA eligibility certification
Service provided under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires agencies to certify clients as eligible for service. The implementation of ADA allowed a broad latitude for agencies to develop eligibility certification processes. While some procedures may seem cost-effective in the short run, some strategies can ensure eligibility is more accurately determined and thus restrict the ability for ineligible persons to receive service, controlling operating costs in the long run <ref>Transit Cooperative Research Program. "Synthesis of Transit Practice 30: ADA Paratransit Eligibility Certification Practices". Weiner, Richard http://www.tcrponline.org/PDFDocuments/tsyn30.pdf (1998)</ref>.
Types of Eligibility
The purpose of the eligibility process for ADA service is to restrict provision only to individuals whose disability prevents them from using an accessible fixed-route service. Agencies may define a process for determining eligibility for a client based on how their disability functionally prevents them from using a fixed-route service. It is important to highlight that a person is not eligible for ADA simply because they have a disability or multiple disabilities. The eligibility requirements are listed in section 37.123 of Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations. <ref>Federal Register, Vol. 56, No. 173, Rules and Regulations, Section 37.123.</ref>. This article assumes that by 2013 agencies are generally running accessible vehicles as a rule; when the ADA was originally enacted, many operations nationwide did not have accessible vehicles and were required to remedy this over time.
Determining eligibility is important for controlling cost of operation. Some agencies may believe that time and money are saved up front by making all clients unconditionally eligible. While this can involve significantly less effort in the short run, many clients may be able to request nearly unlimited paratransit service when they would be capable of using the more cost-effective fixed-route service for certain trips.
Basic Eligibility Determination
- Individuals who are unable to board, ride, or disembark from an accessible fixed-route vehicle.
- Individuals able to ride, but no accessible vehicle is available on the route required or at the hour required.
- Individuals whose disability prevents travel to or from a stop on their trip. This can be at the beginning, end, or in a transfer.
Further on the last point, weather and environmental barriers are considered when determining eligibility. However, a person may not claim environmental conditions as the sole barrier to travel. In other words, a person requesting eligibility for service during periods of snow must demonstrate that their disability combined with snow conditions prevents them from using fixed-route service.
Staff should remember that eligibility is based on functional ability to use a fixed-route vehicle or system, not a specific disability. A blind customer is not automatically eligible for ADA paratransit service. A person who is blind could still be found eligible if they are functionally unable to use the bus.
Conditional and Unconditional Eligibility
Agencies may find clients eligible for service conditional on certain factors. For instance, a client may be conditionally eligible if, in the previous example, their disability prevents them from travel in snowy weather. In this case the agency would only be required to provide paratransit service when snowy conditions were present; in fair weather, the client would be expected to use the fixed-route system or other means to make their trip. Unconditional clients may receive service for any request.
Best Practices for Determining Eligibility
The eligibility process should be straightforward and fair to potential clients. Staff managing the program should be knowledgeable in the ADA laws and best practices. Training courses are available from the National Transit Institute specifically on eligibility. Staff should be able to communicate effectively and be sensitive to the needs of customers. The application should be clear and straightforward - do not make applicants jump through hoops to reach an eligibility determination.
Personal and sensitive topics are a part of ADA eligibility; applications should be confidential among agency staff. Review of applications must be objective and cover only facts, such as environmental barriers to travel and not a personal opinion on the client's ability to travel independently. Every client should be treated equally, and eligibility determinations should be consistent among similar circumstances.
Many agencies require an in-person interview which can serve as both an information session for a potential client as well as a functional assessment of their ability to use transit. Using an interview to perform a functional assessment must be done carefully and fairly. Functional assessments are not required, but can help in some circumstances. Functional skills include those required to navigate to and board an accessible vehicle. Cognitive and sensory skills include the ability to wait for and board the correct bus. They can also include riding the bus itself, and the ability to handle unexpected situations.
Right to Appeal
Applicants have the right to appeal a denial of eligibility. If the applicant is denied again, they have the ability to file a complaint with the FTA or their local court system.
Easter Seals Project Action. "Determining ADA Paratransit Eligibility: An Approach, Guidance and Training Materials". August 15, 2003.
Easter Seals Project Action: In 2011, Project Action held a webinar course on determining eligibility. The materials are available online.
NTI courses on ADA: