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Smiling words and back slaps abounded when local leaders unveiled a new retractable platform at Ann Arbor's Amtrak station last week. But what is easily lost in the celebration is that this new improvement, while a welcome addition, is only one more move toward universal design that can make more transportations accessible to everyone.

Think people like Lloyd Shelton. The Ann Arbor resident travels with an electric wheelchair because of a form of muscular dystrophy called spinal muscular atrophy. He is a member of the committee for disability concerns with both the city of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan. He is a big proponent of improvements like the retractable platform, which provides a safer and faster way to get on and off of trains for people using wheeled mobility device, seniors, and those who need assistance with luggage and strollers.

"It makes transportation more accessible and less problematic," Shelton says.

Which is important to him. People dealing with disabilities, many struggling with lower incomes and even poverty, rely on Amtrak as their only affordable option for long distance travel. For them booking tickets on planes or buses can be prohibitively expensive because they need to pay premium prices for extra space and accommodations.  

That doesn't mean Amtrak is the salvation for the handicapped. Its infrastructure still has a long way to go to achieve the kind of universal design that opens a door for everyone.

"It (Ann Arbor's Amtrak station) was theoretically accessible," Shelton says. "I'd like to do things in a more spontaneous way. But for them we have to reach out and arrange help ahead of time. It was more problematic."

Which is another reason why Shelton and his cohorts are pushing hard for universal design in transportation options like these. They see incremental progress but a long road ahead to true universal accessibility.

"It's moving in the right direction," Shelton says.

Source: Lloyd Shelton, a member of the committee for disability concerns with both the city of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke
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