Legislation designed to promote the ability of individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and developmental disabilities to travel independently is headed to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk to be signed into law.
The legislation (S-3442/A-5334), of which Senator Patrick J. Diegnan Jr. and Assemblyman Sterley Stanley are primary sponsors, and of which Assemblyman Rob Karabinchak is a co-sponsor, was introduced in response to a report from the New Jersey Task Force on Transportation, Mobility, and Support Service Needs of Adults with Autism.
The full Senate and Assembly approved the measure during Monday’s voting session.
A Rutgers University Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation study found New Jersey adults on the autism spectrum face significant challenges getting to and from their places of employment and education, medical appointments, and social and community engagements.
Of the hundreds of adults with autism surveyed as part of the two-year study, 68 percent relied on parents or friends for transportation, with 72 percent of those individuals reporting they missed some activities due to the unavailability of rides.
The study found adults on the autism spectrum don’t have access to public transit or lack the familiarity and/or skills to safely use such services.
“Public transportation is vital for so many New Jerseyans, especially those in our disabled community,” Diegnan, Karabinchak and Stanley – who represent New Jersey’s 18th Legislative District – said in a joint statement.
“Research has shown many adults with intellectual disabilities face seemingly insurmountable hurdles in accessing our public transportation system. These individuals deserve to travel independently, and it is up to us to do everything we can to identify ways to increase their access and familiarity with public transportation services.”
The legislation requires the New Jersey Department of Transportation, NJ TRANSIT, and the New Jersey Department of Human Services to:
• Conduct a holistic review of current infrastructure design practices for public highways and public transportation projects with the purpose of recommending new and revised design practices to be adopted that promote the ability of individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and developmental disabilities to travel independently.
• Study nationwide best practices that identify ways to operate public roadway facilities, public transportation services, and mobility programs the Department of Human Services operates or funds to make transportation services and mobility programs more accessible for persons on the autism spectrum and with developmental disabilities.
The legislation also requires the New Jersey Department of Transportation to encourage regional and local entities that apply for funding through local aid programs to adopt infrastructure design practices and best practices that are consistent with state practices.
“Accessible transportation is the gateway to work, education and social opportunities,” Diegnan, Karabinchak and Stanley said in their joint statement. “It’s critical that we design and implement transit projects that have design features conducive to people with autism and other developmental challenges, so that they may take advantage of all opportunities accessible transit can offer.”
The Rutgers University Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation study found “transportation barriers of adults with autism spectrum disorder are not limited to public transportation issues but are also related to walking, driving, the locales where they reside, the schools and day programs they attend, the training they receive on various aspects of life, and also certain limitations that are imposed by their disabilities.”
Primary sponsors of the legislation to enhance equity for people with special needs also included Senator Thomas H. Kean Jr., Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez, and Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo.
“We stand to learn a great deal from successful autism-friendly transportation models from across the country,” Mazzeo said last year when the Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee released the legislation.
“By studying mobility services that have made a positive impact in the lives of people with disabilities nationwide, we can launch or build upon similar programs to help residents in New Jersey.”
Lopez noted that since the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the United States has made tremendous strides to ensure transportation projects and services are more accessible to people with physical disabilities.
“The same attention must be given to those with intellectual or developmental disabilities,” Lopez said last year.
“Our highways, roadside facilities and mobility programs must be equipped to accommodate the needs of all who rely on them.”