HONOLULU (KHON2) — The very first modern wheelchair was invented by a German clockmaker in 1655. Stephan Farfler was a paraplegic himself who wanted to make the quality of life better for those who needed extra assistance toward mobility.

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics found that 57.8 percent of the total number of people with disabilities said that they need a wheelchair, cane, walker or other assistance to gain mobility. Keep in mind that nearly 42 percent of those with disabilities do not utilize implements that assistance with mobility.

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Paratransit has been a big help to those who cannot utilize public transport on their own or who cannot drive a vehicle on their own. It is a means for those who experience cognitive or physical impairments to gain mobility and build confidence.

Fortunately, the City and County of Honolulu has decided to improve paratransit options and experiences for people living with disabilities.

The impetus for this decision is the Department of Justice’s settlement agreement with Honolulu under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act to improve its paratransit.  

The ADA requires that cities and counties that provide public transport also provide paratransit options. Hence, with The Bus and HART, Honolulu must provide adequate access to paratransit.

“Ensuring easy access to booking paratransit is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

“This agreement will allow users to reserve and use paratransit in Honolulu. The Justice Department is committed to ending discriminatory practices in paratransit, because accessible transportation is critical to independence and engagement in civic life,” explained Clarke.

What instigated this agreement? There were complaints from customers of the Honolulu’s existing paratransit infrastructure that led to the DOJ becoming involved.

The complaints centered on TheHandi-Van’s services. Those who called to make or change reservations for rides found that they experienced long telephone hold times or their calls went unanswered all together.

This agreement requires that Honolulu make changes to this system to ensure that there are lessened hold times. So, TheHandi-Van will need to improve to the point that they will respond to 95 percent of calls within three minutes and 99 percent of calls within five minutes.

Honolulu has three years to reach this compliance level and will have to provide regular updates on its progress.

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According to Honolulu, “this matter was prosecuted by the Civil Rights Division’s Disability Rights Section.”