Question: I am an older adult with a disability who is trying to stay active in my community, specifically by participating in events offered by my senior center. The senior center provides transportation, but I need help to board the van. I have requested several different reasonable modifications, such as using my walker on the lift, more time in order to climb the stairs, or a step stool to climb aboard. My requests were denied, and I was told I would have to use a wheelchair. When I was told that I would have to use a wheelchair on the lift, I asked to store the wheelchair while at the senior center because my doctor doesn’t want me sitting all day. Each reasonable modification I have requested has been denied. Does the senior center have to allow me to use the lift with my walker or provide me with other assistance so that I can participate?
Answer: A senior center is a Title II entity under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). All of its programs, services and activities must be accessible to and useable by people with disabilities. In this situation since the senior center provides transportation, it must provide accessible transportation. This may mean considering reasonable modifications of a policy, practice or procedure requests so that people with disabilities can board and alight a vehicle.
The senior center must consider each of your requests, including allowing you to use the lift as a standee (a person who stands, as a passenger in a train, a spectator at a theater, etc.,) or step stool. The U.S. Department of Transportation, which oversees the transportation portion of the ADA, has indicated that people who stand should be allowed to use a lift, not just people who use wheelchairs. The senior center can perform an individualized analysis of your request. The decision whether to grant or deny a reasonable modification cannot be based on general assumptions regarding older adults. If the senior center determines that it is not safe for you to use the lift, the senior center must consider other reasonable modifications that would allow you to use their van.
Allowing additional time to board the van while using the stairs may be another reasonable modification option. If there truly is a safety concern of a fall risk based on observation, e.g., staff has observed you falling, it could be reasonable to either provide a manual wheelchair to use while entering and exiting the van or to allow you to store a wheelchair while at the senior center. The senior center cannot require you to remain in a wheelchair unless there is a safety concern noted through an individualized assessment.
For more information, contact the New England ADA Center at 1-800-949-4232.