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Findings from First National Transportation Survey of Individuals who are Blind and Visually Impaired
Research Takeaway: Transportation presents a major challenge for individuals with blindness and visual impairments (B/VI), and lack of transportation negatively influences many areas of their lives. Counselors should be on the lookout for consumers who are struggling with transportation, and they should work with all consumers to make sure they have a realistic plan for how to get to and from work.
Research and experience demonstrate that individuals with B/VI struggle with transportation. Lack of reliable, affordable transportation impacts many areas of their lives, including employment. When people lose their vision, their participation in all kinds of activities, including shopping, socializing, and employment may decrease. This may be partially because transportation can seem like an overwhelming obstacle for someone who lacks vision.
Previous research on transportation barriers has focused on the wider disability community. Researchers at the NRTC decided to conduct the first national survey of individuals with B/VI that specifically focused on transportation.
- Employment is impacted by lack of transportation . More than one-third of survey respondents reported that they had turned down a job offer due to transportation concerns. But in most cases, transportation was not the deciding factor for these consumers in being able to secure employment.
- Transportation affects more than just employment . Participants noted that lack of transportation limited their participation in entertainment/leisure activities, visiting friends and family, shopping, and volunteering. In fact, lack of transportation limited participation in these activities more than it limited participation in employment.
- Counselors can be doing more to help consumers with transportation issues . Of survey respondents who received VR services, just 26% said their VR counselor actively helped them find transportation to work.
- Orientation and mobility (O&M) providers play a crucial role in helping consumers feel confident about their transportation options . Most respondents to the survey received O&M training in the past and were confident in their ability to get around.
- When available, public transportation is a popular option . Participants in our survey were more likely than not to have access to public transportation. Public transportation was the most frequently used mode of getting to work for respondents in the survey who were employed. For those who don’t use public transportation, difficulty getting to their destination, inconvenience, and safety concerns were the most commonly cited barriers. Despite these obstacles, of those in the survey who didn’t have access to public transportation, 93% said they would use it if they could access it.
- When helping consumers find a job, don’t forget to talk with them about how they’ll get to and from that job . This conversation isn’t happening often enough, and consumers may be negatively impacted if they manage to find a job but then can’t figure out their transportation arrangements. Help them talk through their options and problem-solve obstacles ahead of time, including evaluating transportation costs.
- Talk with consumers about how transportation (and the lack of it) is impacting their lives . Transportation barriers may especially be impacting activities that aren’t on a set, regular schedule or that occur on the evenings and weekends, such as entertainment or shopping. Helping consumers put together a schedule of their transportation needs can help them secure reliable transportation for all their life activities.
- Make sure consumers are getting quality O&M instruction . In our survey, O&M instruction was important in helping consumers feel confident about accessing transportation options, especially when it comes to public transportation.
Our survey was distributed electronically via the internet in two rounds. The first round of the survey was sent in late 2013 to individuals with B/VI who had signed up to participate as volunteers for NRTC research projects. The second round was sent in 2014 to participants recruited through online postings and with the help of consumer organizations. In total, our study had a sample of 492 surveys, including people who were legally blind, totally blind, and visually impaired. Keep in mind that, because this survey was conducted online, participants were more likely to be more affluent, better educated, and better able to use technology than individuals who did not participate in the survey.
Orientation & Mobility Providers Offer Transportation Insights
Research Takeaway: Orientation & mobility (O&M) providers shared insights on transportation barriers faced by individuals with blindness or visual impairments (B/VI). They suggested that it is essential for consumers to learn skills, such as problem-solving and self-advocacy, which will help them overcome transportation barriers. O&M providers proposed having conversations with consumers about transportation success stories and helping consumers explore a wide variety of transportation options. As counselors work with consumers to find transportation solutions, O&M providers can be valuable allies.
O&M providers work with consumers with B/VI to provide personalized instruction on how to travel safely and efficiently. For example, they might teach someone how to use a white cane or help a consumer map out a route that allows them to travel safely through their neighborhood.
Researchers wanted to explore the unique perspectives of O&M providers on the topic of transportation. Transportation is a huge barrier for blind people who want to work. Lack of access to reliable transportation can cause individuals with B/VI to turn down job offers or give up looking for work altogether. O&M providers have a unique perspective on this topic since they teach travel skills, but their point of view is rarely studied by researchers.
O&M providers strongly agreed that transportation is a major barrier to employment for the B/VI individuals they work with. They identified a number of main transportation barriers people encounter:
- Limitations of public transportation : Public transportation systems have limited hours and routes. Public transportation often doesn’t run on weekends or during evening/early morning hours, making it difficult for people who don’t work a traditional 9-to-5 job to use these systems. Increasingly, jobs are moving out of city hubs and into the suburbs, but public transportation routes haven’t kept up with this shift. Accessing public transportation is especially difficult for people who live in rural areas.
- Cost of transportation : Many individuals with B/VI can’t afford to hire a private driver, which limits their transportation options. Even paying public transportation fares may be too expensive.
- Safety issues : Individuals with B/VI often feel vulnerable using public transportation, although O&M providers stated that they thought these fears were sometimes inflated. Families and friends may spread the idea that public transportation is dangerous, thus stoking fears and further limiting options.
- Stress: Public transportation systems can be unreliable, crowded, and loud, making their use extremely stressful for individuals with B/VI.
- Liability concerns : For B/VI individuals who try to set up a carpool or driver, worries about liability can get in the way. Rightly or wrongly, drivers may refuse to transport other individuals, fearing that they would be held liable and potentially sued if an accident occurred.
In order to overcome these barriers, O&M providers offered some suggestions:
- Consider proximity to public transportation: While relocating may not always be feasible, think about the benefits of living near public transportation. If you are eager to work, it may make sense to relocate to a central location in order to maximize your transportation options.
- Learn to be a self-advocate: It’s important to be able to advocate for yourself with employers and public transportation providers in order to find solutions to transportation challenges.
- Consider using bioptics: This technology can allow some individuals with low vision to drive themselves. O&M providers thought more people should be aware of this option.
When working with consumers, focus on helping them develop problem-solving skills. Talk them through transportation challenges, such as finding a driver or negotiating carpool arrangements. Ask them how they would handle these challenges, and make sure you’re actively talking with them about how to set up transportation arrangements (for example, negotiating a carpool arrangement or tipping a cab driver).
Along with problem-solving skills, consumers also need to develop self-advocacy skills. Consumers can use these skills to negotiate with employers to see if they’re open to assisting with their employees’ transportation needs, perhaps by subsidizing travel costs or providing flexible work schedules to accommodate public transportation use.
While they reported rarely having direct conversations with consumers about transportation, O&M providers may be valuable allies for VR counselors as they help consumers make transportation plans. For instance, an O&M provider may be able to help ease a consumer’s fears about using public transportation by practicing with them.
Counselors should also be on alert for consumers with low vision who may qualify to use a bioptic device to drive. O&M providers sometimes refer consumers for these devices, which implies that VR counselors did not recognize consumers who might benefit from this technology during their initial intake.
Finally, when talking with consumers about transportation options, share success stories, both personal and from other clients. Hearing about others’ experiences and success in overcoming challenges may spark ideas and generate conversation.
Researchers conducted a focus group of six O&M providers to talk about transportation issues encountered by consumers. Participants met for two hours of discussion during a national conference.
A Transportation Guide for Persons who are Blind or Have Low Vision: This comprehensive guide contains helpful information about finding and using transportation options, and is designed for persons with vision impairments or those who serve them. Word PDF
Customized Transportation Plan: This customized transportation plan is meant to generate conversation between counselor and consumer regarding the consumer’s transportation situation. The questions guide the conversation through various transportation routes, the consumer’s transportation history, and the consumer’s transportation options. Word PDF