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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. Individuals should be sure to get Orientation and Mobility (O&M) training and they should ask their Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) counselors to assist them in overcoming transportation barriers.
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.
- 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 looking for a job, don’t forget to consider how you will get to and from that job . Your VR counselor can help you talk through your options and problem-solve obstacles ahead of time, including evaluating transportation costs.
- Talk with your VR counselor about how transportation (and the lack of it) is impacting your life . 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. Your counselor can help you put together a schedule of your transportation needs and work with you to find solutions.
- Make sure you receive 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. Talk with your VR counselor about getting O&M training.
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 can help you overcome transportation barriers. O&M providers thought consumers should talk to their VR counselors about transportation success stories and the wide variety of transportation options that are available.
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.
Ask your VR counselor to help you develop problem-solving skills. Work through sample transportation challenges, such as finding a driver or negotiating carpool arrangements. Have your counselor help you figure out how you could handle these challenges.
Along with problem-solving skills, work to develop self-advocacy skills. You can use these skills to negotiate with employers to see if they’re open to assisting with your transportation needs, perhaps by subsidizing travel costs or providing flexible work schedules to accommodate public transportation use. Ask your VR counselor to help you practice speaking up and proposing solutions to challenges.
If you have low vision, ask if you qualify to use a bioptic device to drive . Your VR counselor and/or O&M provider can help you figure out if bioptics will allow you to drive.
Finally, ask your VR counselor about transportation success stories from other B/VI individuals. Hearing about others’ experiences and successes in overcoming challenges may spark ideas for you.
Researchers conducted a focus group of six O&M providers to talk about transportation issues encountered by the B/VI individuals they work with. Participants met for two hours of discussion during a national conference.
Stress Associated with Transportation
Research Takeaway: Some individuals with blindness and visual impairments (BVI) experience stress when walking and using public transportation. Greater stress was connected with unfamiliar situations or frequently changing settings. Levels of walking stress and public transportation stress in persons with BVI were associated with age, having a physical limitation, public transportation use, years since vision loss (for walking stress), and receipt of orientation and mobility (O&M) training (for public transportation stress) or dog guide use (for walking stress).
Stress can impact a person’s ability to complete a task. Previous research demonstrates that transportation can be a challenge for individuals with BVI, potentially causing an increase in stress.
We wanted to learn more about transportation-related stress among persons with BVI. This study evaluated walking stress and public transportation stress, the impact of stress on activities, and if specific factors could predict stress among adults with BVI.
- People experienced more stress in unfamiliar or changing areas, and less stress when using a taxi or asking someone for help. Walking in urban areas without sidewalks, walking in unfamiliar places, and navigating unfamiliar bus routes were reported as the most stressful tasks. The level of uncertainty combined with the need for higher focus and effort may lead to higher stress.
- Entertainment or leisure activities and visiting family or friends were most frequently limited or avoided due to transportation-related stress. These activities usually help reduce stress, so it is important that people who are BVI have the opportunity to participate in these activities.
- Transportation stress is not a major factor in employment. Most survey participants (over 75%) reported that transportation stress did not limit their participation in employment.
Walking stress is associated with age, years since vision loss, dog guide use, physical limitations, and frequency of public transportation use.
- Walking stress increases with age, and persons with physical limitations tend to have higher stress than persons without physical limitations.
- Walking stress decreases with each year since vision loss, dog guide use, and more frequent use of public transportation.
Public transportation stress is associated with age, O&M training, physical limitations, and frequency of public transportation use.
- Public transportation stress increases with age, and persons with physical limitations tend to have higher stress than persons without physical limitations.
- Public transportation stress decreases with O&M training and more frequent use of public transportation.
If you experience stress when traveling or using transportation, consider these suggestions:
- Use public transportation regularly. More frequent use of public transportation is related to lower stress levels. Regular practice of travel skills is important to maintaining independence.
- Seek additional O&M training. O&M training is related to lower public transportation stress, and O&M training gives you a chance to learn and practice your transportation skills.
- Try to get out and participate in recreational activities and visit friends and family. Many people avoided these activities due to stress, but these activities are important for reducing stress overall.
Individuals who are BVI responded to an online transportation survey conducted in 2013 and 2014. This study included 368 survey respondents who do not drive.
Crudden, A., Cmar, J. L., & McDonnall, M. C. (2017). Stress associated with transportation: A survey of persons with visual impairments. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 111(3), 219-230.
For more information about the Transportation project, including links to an online short course and a variety of transportation resources, see the project overview page: A Customized Transportation Intervention.
A Transportation Guide for Persons who are Blind or Have Low Vision: The second edition of this comprehensive guide contains updated information about finding and using transportation options, and is designed for persons with vision impairments or those who serve them.
Customized Transportation Plan: This customized transportation plan is meant to generate conversation between you and your Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) counselor regarding your transportation situation. The questions guide you through considering various transportation routes, your transportation history, and your transportation options.
Navigating Your Neighborhood Brief: Effective transportation begins in your neighborhood! Determine whether where you live is impacting your ability to travel and/or use public transportation.
Orientation and Mobility Brief: The first step in developing your plan to get to and from work is to have good orientation and mobility (O&M) skills. If you’ve never received O&M training, take a look at this brief for an overview of the skills you can learn.
Public Transportation Brief: When available, public transportation is typically the most cost effective method to get to and from work. If you’re thinking about using public transportation, check out this brief for some helpful tips and questions to ask your local public transit providers.
White Cane Brief: Countless individuals with blindness or low vision use a white cane to help them navigate their environment with greater independence and confidence. Check out this brief to help you determine whether a white cane might be for you.