One of the greatest scientific minds of the past millennia chose to take a Utah Department of Transportation paratransit bus to deliver his speech at the University of Utah when visiting in 1993.
Stephen Hawking, who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS disease, had a PhD in applied mathematics and theoretical physics. He shared with the world his great mind and abilities, and was not afraid to show his disabilities.
For much of his later life he was confined to a wheelchair and a computer was his voice.
With help from UTA that one special July day, Hawking was able to share his knowledge with hundreds, if not thousands of students, faculty and staff, according to Cherryl Beveridge, general manager of special services.
For the past week UTA, the United Way of Utah County and their patrons have celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Because of ADA, UTA can offer rides like a paratransit.
The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public, according to its website.
From the hanging placard in cars that allow individuals to park in ADA parking, the parking spot itself and other things like sidewalk cut-aways allowing for wheelchairs to cross the street safely or the beeping sounds of a crossing light to help the blind, all of these things came because people fought for ADA.
“When I started working at UTA 40 years ago, we didn’t have anything accessible,” Beveridge said. She noted that many people protested for accessibility and even chained themselves to buses.
“I have watched the journey of the ADA,” Beveridge said. “In the beginning, UTA didn’t want lifts on buses. Thank goodness there were people who fought for the right to ride the bus.”
Now, Beveridge said she is proud of what UTA and its operators do for the public.
“We’re always thinking how we can make services better,” Beveridge said.
UTA is currently working on a “micro transit” pilot program. The service would work similar to Uber or Lyft rides.
Through the VIA app, people could call for an ADA-equipped vehicle, show their bus pass and ride free to their destination. If they didn’t have a pass it would be the cost of a bus ride.
Beveridge said they are testing the program between Herriman and Draper. If all goes well, that service could move south into Utah County.
Currently in Utah County, ADA services are provided on FrontRunner trains, fixed ride buses and routes, on paratransit buses and on other options through partnerships with senior living centers and veterans organizations.
“People are no longer homebound,” Beveridge said.
Through arrangements with United Way of Utah County’s paratransit service, Jerry Lambertus was able to take the transit bus Thursday from American Fork to Pleasant Grove.
“We have been providing UTA’s paratransit service in Utah County for more than three decades,” said Bill Hulterstrom, president and CEO of United Way of Utah County. “It has been great to see so many people’s lives improved by their ability to get out and go to school, work, shop and to recreate through this transportation service.”
Hulterstrom said it was hard for him to imagine a world that not so many years ago, left people confined to their homes because of a disability.
Beveridge said UTA started slow in its journey to accessibility, but now offers many ADA-centric things.
To find out all the things UTA offers for those with disabilities, including ride training, visit the website at http://rideuta.com.