by Joan Willshire
On January 6, 2023 I was in a car accident. I was totally fine, but my car became totally inoperable after hitting a patch of ice and sliding into a parked car. It was 5:30 p.m. on a Friday, with plenty of traffic on a Minneapolis street. It was also three days after a 15-inch snowfall.
There I sat, in the middle of the street, unable to move my vehicle. I was about eight blocks away from home. It seemed farther with no good options to get there.
I am a person with a physical disability and use a motorized scooter to get around. My car is modified with a ramp in it. I can drive into the vehicle, slide over into the driver seat, and off I go.
No bus was available. Minneapolis’ few accessible taxicabs must be scheduled in advance. Metro Mobility was out as that is also a scheduled ride.
Transportation network companies (TNC) such as Uber and Lyft are not accessible as well.
One of the worst options presented was to call 911 and have an ambulance take me home. What would happen to my scooter? There just weren’t any good choices at all so I opted to use my scooter and just drive home.
The police officer didn’t want me to do that because it was too cold, too snowy and too far. All of those reasons were certainly true, but the main question still was: how was Joan going to get home?
The police officer made sure I had a blanket to bundle up in. Off I went with a police escort, lights flashing on the squad car as he followed me. I drove down the middle of the street, eight blocks from the car accident in the North Loop. It was certainly a spectacle.
If that accident wasn’t bad enough, I was without a vehicle for several weeks, and had to use the accessible taxi cab system. There are not enough accessible taxi cabs to meet the needs for service. It was typical to wait two hours for an accessible cab for a ride and wait another two hours on the return ride as well.
Fast forward to the year 2024. There now is an accessible option for emergencies like the one I experienced. Metropolitan Council Chair Charlie Zelle and his staff have heard my story. Now that there is an answer to the question of what happens to Joan if she gets in a car accident.
A law enforcement officer can now contact Metro Mobility in case of emergency. Metro Mobility will have a vehicle available to pick up an individual who is in a situation like mine — needing to get home safely. I can’t tell you how this relieves me beyond belief.
It’s no fun getting into an accident but it’s even more stressful when you can’t figure out how you’re going to get home safely and securely.
It’s fantastic to know that there is now a safe, secure and accessible option, if I ever get in an accident again.
Looking toward the future, I am working with policy makers on legislation to increase more accessible taxi cabs in our system and assist in ensuring that the transportation network companies’ drivers have access to accessible vehicles as well.
Other states are working on similar legislation. Minnesota must do this as well right now. This is an equity issue. Transportation for people with disabilities has not changed in nearly 30 years, yet transportation for everybody else certainly has changed dramatically. People with disabilities must demand that we have full access to these different modes of transportation services. Funding must be designated specifically for these new accessible modes of transportation. If we had more accessible and reliable transportation, this would certainly help our low employment numbers, and our overall ability to be able to live, work and play in the community of our choice.
Let’s not forget autonomous vehicles are on the horizon too. Those vehicles will be a game changer for people with disabilities and seniors. I was just reappointed to the Connected and Automated Vehicle Council (CAV). I will work on that issue as well to ensure full accessibility for everyone.
Joan Willshire brings her disability expertise to her firm, Willshire Consulting LLC. She is the former executive director of the Minnesota Council on Disability and is a change agent for people with disabilities.