October 3, 2022
The IDEA of COMTO: How Accessibility Completes COMTO’s Mission
This Disability Employment Awareness Month, the leadership of the Accessibility Advisory Council reviews COMTO’s progress in the area of accessibility since the council was formed five years ago, and the steps the organization must take to ensure we fulfill our mission of ensuring equal opportunity of all underserved communities.
Every year, October serves as “Disability Employment Awareness Month,” and we want to take this opportunity to highlight why it is important for us to return to this message over and over. To put it plainly, not much has changed. For decades, we have had the narrative that about “20% of the U.S. population consists of people with disabilities and 70% are unemployed,” and “many people with disabilities can succeed in the workplace with or without reasonable accommodation or assistive technology, both of which are available upon request.” Clearly, there are plenty of people with disabilities with the potential to work, yet the unemployment rate in the disability community remains unchanged, even with the acute personnel shortages we are now facing. So, what can or should COMTO do about this? First, we would like to start with what we have already done to open our doors to people with disabilities overall.
Five years ago, former COMTO Chair Warren Montague and former President Brad Mims brought forward a motion passed unanimously by the Board of Directors to establish our Accessibility Advisory Council (AAC). They had been reflecting on COMTO’s mission to advocate for equal opportunity for all minorities, and they noted that the disability community was not overtly included. They asked, “isn’t that the whole ‘idea’ of COMTO?” And the rest is history. From the moment the Council was formed, there was a groundswell of interest from the COMTO membership, and it became readily apparent that the mission of the AAC and the mission of COMTO were supremely compatible. AAC activities coincided with the same types of advocacy that COMTO was already doing, and there was tremendous potential to grow COMTO membership by bringing people with disabilities and those who work with them into the COMTO fold.
Since that time, COMTO has made several changes to make our organization better prepared to welcome and work with members with disabilities, to include:
- An accessible, 508-compliant web site that conveys COMTO news and services to customers who rely on screen reader and other assistive technology to surf the web
- Accessibility-related content at our National Meeting & Training Conferences (NMTC)– the “Accessibility Track,” has been a recurring, well-attended feature of multiple national conferences
- Nomination and selection of an honoree with a disability for the Celebrating Women Who Move the Nation event
- Site reviews of NMTC venues for accessibility considerations, to include a comprehensive report that informs COMTO’s approach for securing accessible accommodations at future meetings
- Collaboration with the Legislative Advisory Council (LAC) to ensure that our messaging to our political partners includes advocacy on accessibility issues (shout-out to Renee Banks, Board Advisor who leads the LAC and has been a wonderful partner to the AAC)
The AAC would not have been able to accomplish these things without the incredible support of COMTO Headquarters, and in particular, former interim CEO Tara McDaniel. The AAC has also enjoyed continuous support from Board leadership through the term of immediate past chair Freddie Fuller, who led the effort to make the AAC a standing committee, and our current Chair, Tanya Adams, whose own personal experience has made her a strong supporter of disability rights. With the arrival of President & CEO April Rai, the AAC was pleasantly surprised to learn that she is fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) and came to COMTO ready to engage fully with the AAC. We are excited to have April as an ally in our work.
Coming back to the issue of Disability Employment Awareness Month – we have now shared with you the evolution of COMTO’s involvement with disability issues up to the present day. Now we must turn to next steps. The AAC’s meetings in 2022 have been focused on gaining a better understanding of the composition of COMTO membership, both in terms of disability demographics; subject matter expertise; and training needs in the field. In order to create employment opportunities for people with disabilities among our member organizations, we need to know who has the expertise in this discipline to help us provide essential information to the COMTO membership.
We need to know if there are COMTO members with disabilities who can help us evaluate how well we are doing; and we need to know what our members are looking for in terms of training and assistance in becoming disability-friendly organizations. To gather this information, the AAC will be issuing a short survey soon, and we ask all COMTO members to please take a few minutes to participate. It is one way you can have a wonderful impact and be true to the “IDEA” of COMTO – inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility. It is not enough to create opportunities for people to work together if some of those people simply cannot access them. Accessibility has to be part of the equation.
We hope you will join us at future AAC meetings, which are now held quarterly. The next meeting will take place in December, and for your information, please note the main themes of the AAC Charter, which are:
- Advocate for fair and equal employment and contracting opportunities in the transportation industry for people with disabilities and businesses they own
- Advocate for accessible work environments and organizations to address the disproportionate unemployment of people with disabilities
- Advocate for access to public transportation as a civil right, essential for equal opportunity, health care, employment, and the overall ability to thrive
Ensure that diversity, equity, and inclusion principles and practices include people with disabilities and are incorporated into COMTO policies, programs, publications; events; and leadership positions
If you have any questions or would like more information about the AAC, please contact co-chairs Martin Kareithi ([email protected]) or Lina Aragon ([email protected]), or Board Advisor Christian Kent ([email protected]).
Director, Systemwide Accessibility, Capital Metro
Operations Manager, Palm Tran Public Transportation (Palm Tran)
Board Advisor, COMTO National Board of Directors
Principal, Transit Management Consulting, LLC