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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.

What were we trying to learn?

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.

What are the most important things we learned?

  • 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.

What does this mean for me?

  • 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.

How was this project carried out?

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.

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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.

What were we trying to learn?

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.

What are the most important things we learned?

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.

What does this mean for me?

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.

How was this project carried out?

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.

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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).

What were we trying to learn?

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.

What are the most important things we learned?

  • 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.

What does this mean for me?

When working with consumers who are BVI, it is important to discuss transportation and consider any transportation-related stress they may be experiencing. Consumers may benefit from the following:

  • Discussing transportation stress – Talk to your consumers about the travel-related stress they face and help them find solutions. You may refer them to support groups, additional training, or other services available in the area. Also, discuss activities that may reduce stress, such as spending time with family and friends or taking part in leisure and entertainment activities, and determine the best options for each individual.
  • Additional O&M training – O&M training is related to lower public transportation stress, and O&M training gives consumers a chance to learn and practice travel and transportation skills. Consumers who experience stress associated with transportation may benefit from O&M training.
  • Regular use of public transportation – More frequent use of public transportation per month is related to lower stress levels. Encourage consumers to practice their travel skills and use public transportation regularly.

How was this project carried out?

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.

Learn more Learn more about transportation stress

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.

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The Link Between Confidence in Transportation Skills and Employment Outcomes

Research Takeaway: Reliable transportation is crucial for employment, but securing transportation can be a particularly difficult challenge for individuals with blindness and visual impairment (BVI) who do not drive. Self-efficacy is a person’s confidence in his or her ability to perform a task successfully, and in this study we wanted to know how transportation self-efficacy was linked to employment outcomes for individuals with BVI. Higher levels of transportation self-efficacy were found to increase the odds of employment, indicating the importance of assisting individuals with BVI to confidently address their transportation needs.

What is Transportation Self-Efficacy?

Transportation self-efficacy refers to a person’s confidence in their ability to plan and use transportation. High transportation self-efficacy can help an individual persevere when they encounter transportation difficulties, while a person with low transportation self-efficacy might find transportation challenges overwhelming. An individual who has successfully overcome transportation challenges in the past would be expected to have higher transportation self-efficacy.

What Were We Trying to Learn?

Difficulty with transportation has been identified as a major employment barrier for individuals with BVI. This study sought to determine the levels of transportation self-efficacy among individuals with BVI and whether a strong sense of transportation self-efficacy is associated with more favorable employment outcomes.

What Are The Most Important Things We Learned?

Transportation self-efficacy was found to be linked with employment outcomes. In general, the greater an individual’s transportation self-efficacy, the greater the chances that they were employed.

Transportation self-efficacy was a particularly strong predictor of employment for younger people and for individuals who experienced their vision loss more recently. In other words, a strong sense of transportation self-efficacy increased the odds of employment much more for young people and for people whose vision loss occurred more recently.

Individuals who were employed full-time reported higher confidence in their ability to perform transportation-related tasks. But regardless of employment status, individuals with BVI reported being the least confident in their ability to arrange transportation to and from work with a coworker or someone who works nearby, finding and hiring a driver, and negotiating a fair price with a driver.

How Can I Incorporate These Findings Into Practice?

  1. Ensure that orientation and mobility (O&M) training is widely available, especially for young people and for those who have recently experienced vision loss. These were the two groups that reaped the greatest benefits from a strong sense of transportation self-efficacy, so helping these individuals build confidence in their ability to navigate through their communities is essential. O&M training plays a critical role in helping individuals with BVI acquire transportation skills and develop the confidence to use their skills. Ideally, young people should receive O&M training that includes real-world experiences as part of their educational program beyond traditional school hours and after completing secondary school, and adults who experience vision loss should receive O&M training as soon as possible after vision loss occurs.
  2. Don’t let transportation conversations fall through the cracks. No single entity is officially responsible for helping an individual with BVI secure transportation to and from work. Most vocational rehabilitation (VR) consumers in our study reported that they did not receive assistance from their VR agency with locating transportation, and O&M training may not specifically cover finding transportation to and from work. However, transportation is essential for successful work outcomes, so it is worth finding the time to have these discussions with consumers. In order to fill the transportation service gap, VR and O&M service providers should collaborate and capitalize on the strengths of each profession to ensure that consumers receive the transportation support they need.
  3. Provide consumers with information and support to arrange their own transportation. In order to build transportation self-efficacy, service providers should refrain from making transportation arrangements directly for consumers. Instead, point them in the direction of helpful resources. Our list of transportation-related resources is a good place to start. Encourage the consumers you work with to practice using and arranging transportation, because successful experiences are the most powerful way to build self-efficacy. Additionally, experienced individuals with BVI who have been successful in arranging their own transportation can serve as role models and mentors for more novice transportation users.

How Was This Project Carried Out?

This study focused on adults with BVI who were non-drivers. Data from 327 people who participated in an online national transportation survey were included. The survey asked respondents about their transportation experiences; the impact of transportation on their activities, including employment; and their confidence in their ability to find and arrange transportation.

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Findings taken from the following article:

Cmar, J. L., McDonnall, M. C., & Crudden, A. (2018). Transportation self-efficacy and employment among individuals with visual impairments. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 48(2), 257-268.

For more information about this project, including links to a transportation guide, an online short course, and a customizable transportation plan, visit the project overview page: A Customized Transportation Intervention.

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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.     A Transportation Guide for Persons who are Blind or Have Low Vision - Word   A Transportation Guide for Persons who are Blind or Have Low Vision - 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.     Customized Transportation Plan - Word   Customized Transportation Plan - PDF