Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but considering how much Ron Brooks has moved around the U.S. since his youth, it seems fitting that he’s spent his entire professional career working in the public transit industry. What’s more, a focal point of his work is making public transit more accessible for everyone, especially people with disabilities.
Ron is the Founder and CEO of Accessible Avenue. The company provides consulting and training services for transit agencies and mobility providers that want to make their products and services more accessible for people with disabilities. He is the sole staff member, with some administrative help from his wife, Lisa. Ron guides people and community organizations in addressing transportation and mobility challenges for themselves or others.
Ron’s early life
Born with congenital glaucoma, Ron had surgery early in life that restored part of his vision. He still had low vision, and playing contact sports sped his inevitable vision loss. By the time he was 14, he was completely blind.
But that certainly hasn’t slowed Ron down. He attended a combination of mainstream schools and a school for the blind through high school. His family moved around a lot. He graduated from Indiana University with a Liberal Arts degree, majoring in Political Science with concentrations in Labor Relations and Latin American Studies.
“I was thinking I might like to be a professor or work in the U.S. government or with an aid organization,” Ron says. “I was still on that track when I went to graduate school.”
Although Ron started pursuing a graduate degree from San Francisco State University, when he began advocating for improved public transit, he realized he was “pretty interested in it.” He began attending advisory committee meetings for the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system in his spare time. As a member of one of the Bay Area chapters of the American Council of the Blind (ACB), he volunteered to represent ACB as BART was beginning to talk about changes to their system that directly impacted him.
“I didn’t have much else to do other than my homework, which I guess I didn’t really want to do,” Ron says. “The more I got involved in these meetings with BART, the more interesting it became, and I felt like I could really contribute.”
In particular, Ron felt he could help bridge divides. “The folks on the advocacy side were arguing for things that were valid, but they were so angry that they weren’t really working with the system to create change,” he explains. “And the staff at the agency had good intentions, but they didn’t understand how painful some of their services were to use. I felt there was some middle ground there that could be explored.”
Embarking on a lifelong career
Ron left graduate school to start his first job with BART in 1993, working on accessibility projects as the transportation aspects of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) were being implemented.
“There was an opportunity to get involved as a planner,” he says. “I talked my way into a job because I had no background in planning whatsoever. But someone there liked me and gave me the opportunity.”
When the chance to work in paratransit at BART opened up a couple of years later, Ron jumped at it. It was an available step up but also because he wanted to learn as much as possible. He worked in that position for two years, helping BART create a paratransit system with another transit agency, a system that’s still in place today.
From that point, Ron quickly moved up through the ranks at various transit organizations and to new homes around the country. He admits he was a “climber,” so he accepted an opportunity in West Palm Beach, Florida, with his soon-to-be wife, Lisa, who is also blind.
Ron admits that job, working in paratransit and bus accessibility, was one of the hardest he’s ever had. Not only because the system needed a lot of work but also because he stepped up into a management role.
“I spent four years learning a lot about being a manager, then we moved to New Mexico where I joined the private sector,” he says.
Following new paths that align with personal values
Ron held a number of positions at that company, which required a lot of travel. He and Lisa’s three children were reaching school age, and Ron decided that being around for them was more important than the job. In fact, most of his career decisions have revolved around his family. He wanted to be present for them. He accepted a job that paid more so they could attend college – ultimately putting them before work.
“At this point, I’ve been married to Lisa for 27 years. Our kids range in age from 17 to 20,” Ron says. “My work is important, but time is precious.”
Ron created Accessible Avenue in 2020. He was still working at a job he really enjoyed – until the company cut staff and ultimately folded due to COVID. So, he made Accessible Avenue his full-time job in 2021 and worked part-time for a paratransit provider called UZURV. In this on-demand paratransit company, he does public stakeholder and policy work.
But Accessible Avenue is his passion project. As he says, his personal mission is to serve the people around him. And Accessible Avenue’s mission aligns with that.
“I want to make mobility easier and more accessible for folks with disabilities. I want to help them move around in space starting when they walk out their front door as a pedestrian,” explains Ron, whose dog guide, York, is part of his personal mobility solution. “Accessible Avenue exists to help the industry figure out and implement transportation and accessibility solutions that are more accessible for people with disabilities.”
Like any business owner, Ron cares about the success of Accessible Avenue, which also provides consulting on technology solutions. But that’s not what’s most important to him regarding work.
“It’s about the mission, not the business,” Ron says. “It helps me say no to projects that aren’t the right fit and yes to the ones that are. My mission keeps me grounded.”
Watch Ron’s interview on our popular CareerConversation here: