Share

New SmarTrip machines can't be used under ADA rules

|
Local,Transportation,Kytja Weir

Metro's 100 new SmarTrip vending machines are sitting in stations, covered in plastic, because they cannot be used by visually impaired riders.

That lack of accessibility violates both the agency's own procedures and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

Accessibility not perfect on working machines either
Metro already has SmarTrip vending machines at 47 stations that the agency says are equipped with Braille to make them accessible for visually impaired riders.
But one of them tested at Farragut West station might not be very easy for someone who is blind to use, The Washington Examiner found. While the machine does have Braille and raised lettering, it does not have audio features.
To use the machine, one must follow prompts written on a small electronic screen that gives the user choices (e.g., press 1 or 2, press enter), making it difficult for someone who can't see the words on the screen.
Doris Ray, a Metro rider with a visual impairment, has not used the machines but said they would likely need more than just Braille or lettering to make them usable. First, she noted that she and many other blind people cannot read Braille. But she also said that such interactivity that gives riders' choices would need to be explained with an audio feature.
Metro has had the machines in its stations with parking facilities for a while and added them to 10 more stations -- including the one at Farragut West -- in sync with the July 1 fare hike and paper farecard policy change that added a $1 surcharge per trip. The machines are being used even though the agency has covered up 100 new machines that aren't fully accessible, either, until they can be upgraded.
"The older machines shouldn't allowed to be used," said Patrick Sheehan, chairman of Metro's Accessibility Advisory Committee who is also blind.
But Metro said the machines were grandfathered in under the Americans with Disabilities Act. "The requirement for audio is more recent than 2004 when the machines were deployed," Metro spokeswoman Cathy Asato said.
Metro now says it plans to replace all the older machines by June 30, with ones that have both Braille and audio functions.

The transit agency had promised to have vending machines selling the plastic farecards in all stations by Sept. 1, to make it easier for riders to buy them after Metro added a $1 surcharge on each rail trip made with paper cards this summer.

The machines are in place. But one sits at McPherson Square, plugged in but covered in plastic.

Under the plastic, the screen showed the message "out of service."

Now, the agency said, the new vending machines won't be available until Nov. 12, when they can be made accessible to everyone with the addition of audio features and Braille decals.

Patrick Sheehan, chairman of Metro's Accessibility Advisory Committee who is also blind, said he thinks Metro has done the right thing to cover up the inaccessible machines after disability rights advocates raised concerns this summer.

"That's not an acceptable situation," he said, noting that the committee was tough on the transit agency when it found out. "We were actually rather surprised. It's a standard now as opposed to something new."

Metro acknowledged that it failed to follow its own standards when it made the plan to install the 100 new machines.

The agency ordered the machines to be accessible to all riders, meeting the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. "There's no real issue with the machine," said Metro spokeswoman Cathy Asato. "It is as ordered." But Metro had planned to add Braille decals and activate the audio feature software only after deploying the machines, which she said violated Metro's own procedures.

It also would break the law, according to Patrick Wojahn, a disability rights advocate and lawyer who specializes in disability policy.

Asato did not answer questions about whether anyone at the agency has gotten into trouble for the oversight. She also said she did not expect it would cost the agency more to activate the accessibility features in the next two months.

In the meantime, Metro is urging riders -- disabled or not -- to buy SmarTrip cards from the old dispensers at 47 stations or from local Giant, CVS and Safeway stores until the remaining machines can be activated.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

View article comments Leave a comment