By Carli Friedman, Director of Research, CQL
Transportation is one of the biggest barriers people with disabilities face (National Council on Disability, 2015). For example, airlines damage thousands of wheelchairs each year. Many people with disabilities have a lack of accessible transportation options to choose from. Despite the Americans with Disabilities Act being over 30 years old, many public transportation systems in the United States are not fully accessible. Public transportation options are especially lacking for those people with disabilities who live in rural areas. In fact, 40% of counties in the United States have no public transportation (Williams & Thatcher, 2012).
Paratransit can help expand people with disabilities’ access to transportation, especially for those in rural areas. However, paratransit often requires advanced notice, can be significantly delayed, and can be costly. While ride share services can help increase some people’s access to transportation, these services can be inaccessible for some people and discriminatory; in fact, both Lyft and Uber have been sued by the United States government for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
While all of these barriers existed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the pandemic worsened the transportation barriers people with disabilities face. For example, many public transportation systems reduced their schedules and routes during the pandemic (Kim, 2021), leaving fewer options for people with disabilities who relied on these transportation methods. Many people with disabilities have also had to limit their use of public transportation, paratransit, and rideshares due to the risk of being exposed to COVID-19 (Cochran, 2020).
Although transportation can be a major barrier for people with disabilities, transportation plays a critical role in people with disabilities’ quality of life and community integration. In fact, transportation is a social determinant of health (United States Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, n.d.).
For these reasons, this month’s Capstone Newsletter focuses on expanding people with disabilities’ access to transportation. First, we hear from Michael Clausen, Director of Personal Outcomes at CQL, about some ways organizations can maximize people with disabilities’ use of transportation. Then, Christina Smith, Cheryl Grant, and Jim Lockwood from Orange Grove Center share how their organization applies technology to help promote the independence of the people they support.
A Roadmap To Transportation Supports
By Michael Clausen, Director of Personal Outcomes, CQL
Many people with disabilities experience transportation-related challenges. Organizations and direct support professionals (DSPs) are often the key to identifying barriers that exist and systematically breaking them down. The “journey” to meet transportation needs begins with thorough exploration, assessment, and mapping. Solutions need to be approached at the individual level, one person at a time. Assessment should be focused on identifying needs, wants, skills and barriers, and what options might already exist.
Exploring Transportation Options
It is important that organizations serve as advocates to maximize existing options and expand current resources. Public transportation, paratransit services, and Medicaid funded transportation services exist in many communities and are often free or reduced fare for the recipients of certain public benefits programs. Many public transportation agencies also provide free travel training programs for people.
As shared earlier, when communities are lacking transportation options, including accessible options, consider advocating for increased resources: attend your County Planning Board meeting, City Council meeting, or meet with local elected officials. Communities may not always be aware of the deficits that exist in their transportation systems. Seek out local, regional, state, and national public transportation coalitions who are looking for supporters and public input. They are often sources of grant funds for infrastructure and technology, as well as individual travel training initiatives. Advocacy and partnership are critical, particularly in rural communities.
Natural supports, such as friends, family, and community organizations, can play a pivotal role in providing transportation. Community organizations and religious institutions often provide transportation to their members or can arrange shared rides with others. In these situations, be sure to support people to understand reciprocity. If a neighbor or co-worker gives a person a ride, perhaps the person can chip in gas money or walk that neighbor’s dog when they are on vacation.
While there are well-known issues with some ride-sharing apps regarding discriminatory practices and accessibility, with some changes, these apps could offer another option for people with disabilities. Technology has also enabled existing transportation options to become even more accessible for some people through location-enabled trip planning apps and a greater ability to support people when things don’t go as planned.
Supporting Transportation Education And Skills
Education for people and their supporters is key to expanding options and skills. Organizations and DSPs should focus on building skills, rather than simply giving people a ride. It is important that organizations help DSPs in developing the skills needed to support people to access transportation on their own.
Tips For Skill Development:
- Walk with people on a given route to their destination.
- Ride along with people as they familiarize themselves with navigating transportation systems.
- Practice possible challenging scenarios.
- Support people to problem-solve on their own when problems arise.
- As confidence builds, consider fading in incremental steps – meet someone at a transfer point or at the final destination, or follow the bus in a car.
- Build relationships with bus drivers and other people that use the transportation system.
- Ensure that people have a contact for when things go wrong.
- Again, when supporting people, it is important that supports are faded over time.
Budgeting For Transportation
Organizational planning and prioritization can ensure that resources are maximized and fleets are accessible when resources are limited. Provider organizations spend significant portions of their budgets on transportation-related expenses. Rather than spending the entire transportation budget on vehicles, fuel, and maintenance, in settings where accessible public transportation is available, such as more urban areas, consider setting some funding aside to support people to use those options. Don’t overlook the possibility that the waiver(s) in your state may include non-medical transportation as a funded service. Proximity to resources, amenities, and accessible transportation should be a primary consideration when organizations are exploring housing options with people.
Using Technology to Help People with Disabilities Travel
By Christina Smith, Transportation Coordinator, Orange Grove Center
Cheryl Grant, Assistant Transportation Coordinator, Orange Grove Center
Jim Lockwood, Director of Logistic Services, Orange Grove Center
In late 2019, Orange Grove Center, in a partnership with the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (TN DIDD) and the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA), helped pilot a program to assist people with intellectual disabilities to use public transportation with technology to guide them.
For some time, Orange Grove had provided employment support and transportation for Kenny. The opportunity arose to assist Kenny in being more independent. Kenny was a wonderful kitchen worker at an elementary school, but he was not able to drive himself to and from work. Public transportation was available for most of the trip, but this could prove challenging to navigate alone.
The solution came in a mobile application called WayFinder. The application, available through AbleLink Smart Living Technologies, provides the user with detailed instructions, both visually and audibly, to find their way to a preset destination. In Kenny’s case, the application was loaded on a tablet that he kept on a lanyard around his neck when traveling to work. Kenny was prompted with specific instructions based on GPS coordinates and could interact with the application using picture buttons. The application would tell Kenny when to pull the cord to signal the bus driver to let him off and direct him to walk toward particular landmarks, such as a McDonalds.
Another key feature of the software was the ability for others to track Kenny’s location using the application on their own device. This allowed Kenny’s job coach, the CARTA travel trainer, and Kenny’s grandmother to know where he was when traveling. Kenny could even send messages to these individuals and get assistance when necessary. The idea was to provide as much support as necessary while allowing Kenny to be more independent.
In early 2020, Kenny was still traveling with WayFinder and his job coach when COVID-19 changed everything. The program was suspended as schools were closed, work was cancelled, and traveling in public became too risky. While much was learned from the brief pilot, the opportunity for Kenny to travel independently was never fully realized. But we are hopeful that we can soon return to using this or other technology to help the people we support use public transportation and experience the freedom that comes with safe travel! You can watch a video about Kenny’s story here:
It’s Time to Hit the Road
By Carli Friedman, Director of Research, CQL
Transportation can help people connect with friends, get to work, see their doctors, and participate in the lives of their communities, among many other benefits. While transportation can serve as a barrier for people with disabilities, with knowledge about options, thoughtful supports, the use of technology, and education, we can work to make sure more people with disabilities are able to access transportation, as well as the many benefits that comes with doings so!
- Cochran, A. L. (2020). Impacts of COVID-19 on access to transportation for people with disabilities. Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives, 8, 100263. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trip.2020.100263
- Kim, K. (2021). Impacts of COVID-19 on transportation: Summary and synthesis of interdisciplinary research. Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives, 9, 100305. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trip.2021.100305
- National Council on Disability. (2015). Transportation update: Where we’ve gone and what we’ve learned. https://ncd.gov/sites/default/files/Documents/NCD_2015_Transportation_Update.pdf
- United States Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (n.d.). Social determinants of health. Author. https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topics-objectives/topic/social-determinants-of-health
- Williams, G., & Thatcher, R. (2012). Supporting the development of cost-effective Paratransit services: The United States’ Section 5310 program. TRANSED, New Delhi, India.
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