On our way to work or to the market each day, how many of us stop and think about how difficult our travels would be if we were in a wheelchair? Or legally blind?
Kate Anderson does. She notices the decades-old sidewalks without inclines cut into the curbs. She notices the taxi cabs too small to transport a rider and that rider’s wheelchair. She notices it all—and she wants to do something about it.
In partnership with the Maryland Disability Law Center, Anderson will use her fellowship to establish a self-governing Accessible Transportation Advisory Committee composed of people with disabilities. The committee will work to address systemic issues in state and local transportation policies that affect accessibility for thousands of individuals with disabilities in the city.
“Transportation represents freedom, the ability to be independent,” Anderson says. “I think it’s something that a lot of people take for granted. But people with disabilities can’t take it for granted.”
Anderson has been moving toward this calling for many years. Her sensitivity toward people with disabilities began when she became aware that non-family members treated her uncle, who had a disability, strangely.
“He had a severe fever at the age of 3 and had a cognitive disability as a result,” she says. “He’s had a successful great life, but I watched how people interacted with him and I didn’t understand why they were treating him differently. It gave me an awareness of disability at a very young age.”
After college, Anderson worked at the British Council, an international nonprofit that focuses on cultural relations. In addition to her primary duties focused on events and public programs, Anderson also worked on issues of equal opportunity and diversity.
Working there, Anderson realized that Europeans were much more well-versed than Americans in the laws and their rights surrounding equal opportunity.
Anderson hopes that the formation of a committee dedicated to working on these issues will help to change that, at least in Maryland.
Anderson—who studied issues surrounding the rights of individuals with disabilities at the University of Baltimore School of Law—will provide legal advice and technical assistance to the 10-20 person committee, which will work with state agencies responsible for funding or regulating transportation services.
“Improving these policies and services will increase access to education; it will increase economic choice for people because they’ll have more reliable transportation for work or for school or medical appointments,” Anderson says.
Committee members will decide among themselves which issues to tackle throughout the year, but Anderson already is aware of some key ones.
For example, state regulatory policies mandate that taxicabs are only allowed to be four-door sedan type vehicles.
“This means that most taxicabs are not accessible to people who are in wheelchairs,” Anderson says. “In 2012 there were only 15 accessible taxicabs in Baltimore city and there were none in Baltimore County.”
Anderson says she is gratified to note that the current administration already seems on board to work on transportation issues in Maryland.
“But there’s a lot to work on,” Anderson says. “The good news is that the group of people who are likely to be on this committee are a knowledgeable, passionate and aware group. My goal is just to be there to support them to make sure that the consumer voice of people with disabilities is being heard.”