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United We Ride: A National Initiative to Coordinate Human Service Transportation

By Bryna Helfer

“I feel like I am independent,” “I don’t need to depend on my mom and dad to take me places,” and “Now I can ride the bus to get to my job and to the movies with my friends.” These are some of the reactions from youth and adults with disabilities who have gained independence and mobility due to the simple fact that they can now get a ride to work, school, the mall or the library.

Transportation matters. Independence and opportunity begin with dependable transportation. This is particularly true for individuals with disabilities who rely on an array of community transportation services available across the nation to achieve autonomy. Yet, the National Organization on Disability (NOD, 2002) has reported that 30% of adults with disabilities cite inadequate transportation as a problem in their daily lives. In contrast, only 10% of nondisabled adults report the same.

Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, the accessibility of public transportation has increased significantly. In addition to services provided through public transportation agencies, the General Accountability Office (GAO, 2003) found that there are 62 federal programs that support transportation services for individuals with disabilities, older adults, youth, and individuals with lower incomes. These programs are funded by the U.S. Departments of Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, and others. In addition, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Rehabilitation Services, and the Medicaid Waiver programs all include provisions for developing skills necessary for independent living, which includes travel training and safe community mobility. 

Preparing youth and adults with disabilities to travel independently begins with understanding transportation options. Each community offers a different family of transportation services that can be matched with an individual’s needs and abilities. These transportation services may include but are not limited to driving, fixed route buses (buses that start and stop at designated places on a pre-announced schedule), paratransit or other shared ride services, taxicabs, and volunteer driver programs. Given that every individual and every community is different, the creation of a seamless, coordinated accessible transportation network in which people know how to access these services sometimes remains a challenge. Too often individuals and their families are unaware of the array of programs and services that operate, and how to access them.

The challenge of coordinating transportation services so that individuals with disabilities have an easier time accessing transportation in their communities is one that is being addressed by the federal government. As a result of an Executive Order issued by President Bush in 2004, the Federal Interagency Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility (CCAM) has launched United We Ride (UWR). United We Ride is an initiative that includes 11 federal departments working together to simplify access, reduce duplication, and enhance cost efficiencies in community human service transportation.

In its Report to the President (CCAM, 2005a), the CCAM outlines accomplishments over the past year, collective actions of the council, and each CCAM member’s action plan to enhance human service transportation for older adults, individuals with disabilities of all ages, and people with lower incomes. The report also outlines five key recommendations that are targeted to enhance community initiatives in order to build coordinated services at the state and local levels. Those five key recommendations, excerpted from the report, are:

To carry out these recommendations, the CCAM is implementing United We Ride, a national initiative in human service transportation. United We Ride is addressing the challenge of simplifying access, reducing duplication, and enhancing cost effectiveness in the following ways (CCAM, 2005a):

On the Web site of United We Ride ( is extensive information and resources for bringing together stakeholders at local and state levels to improve coordination of transportation services. Resources include:

While the federal government is working to address the key challenges to facilitate access for individuals and families who depend on transportation as a lifeline, it is also important to recognize that coordination must take place in every state and community across the country. This coordination must include consumers, advocates, transportation agencies, education and employment specialists, health care providers, and organizations providing disability related services. Communities across the country are convening taskforces to identify the challenges and address the opportunities to build coordinated community transportation systems.

As we support individuals with disabilities to identify where they are going to live, work, and play, we must also answer the question, “How will I get there?” The U.S. Department of Education has developed a comprehensive action plan to address the unique issues for children and youth with disabilities through special education, transition, rehabilitation services, and independent living centers (CCAM, 2005b). Together, as a nation, we can enhance the mobility of all Americans. United We Ride!


Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility (CCAM). (2005a). Report to the President: Human service transportation coordination, executive order 13330. Retrieved 7/11/05 from

Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility (CCAM). (2005b). Report to the President, human service transportation coordination executive order 13330. Retrieved 8/11/05 from

GAO. (June 2003). Transportation-disadvantaged populations: Some coordination efforts among programs providing transportation services but obstacles persist (Report GAO-03-697). Retrieved 6/30/05 from

National Organization on Disability. (2002). Harris survey of Americans with disabilities.  Washington, DC: Author.

Bryna Helfer is Program Manager, Human Service Transportation, Federal Transit Administration, Washington, DC. She may be reached at 202/347-3066 or at


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Retrieved from the Web site of the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota ( Citation: Gaylord, V., Abeson, A., Bosk, E., Timmons, J., & Lazarus, S. (Eds.). (2005). Impact: Feature Issue on Meeting Transportation Needs of Youth and Adults with Developmental Disabilities 18(3). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration. Available at

The PDF version of this Impact, with photos and graphics, is also online at

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