Guest Post: Empowering People with Disabilities to Use Public Transit

The following guest post was written by Laura Padalino, Director of the Active Transportation Initiative at PEAC, or Program to Educate All Cyclists, a Trans4M member.

Robbi is 22 years old, and recently started his first job at Meijer bagging groceries and stocking new items.  Robbi loves his new job, and his employers appreciate his sense of humor and work ethic.  His performance reviews have been positive in all areas but one: attendance.  Due to an intellectual disability that prevents him from driving, Robbi has been relying on his older sister to get him to and from work. When their schedules don’t line up, he is stuck. Although Robbi lives less than a 4 minute walk from the nearest fixed route bus line, he has never learned how to use the routeA few weeks ago, Robbi and his transition coordinator decided to change this:  Robbi called me to schedule travel training so that he could learn how to use the bus to get to his job.

For the past three years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with students like Robbi as the Coordinator of the Active Transportation Program at Programs to Educate All Cyclists (PEAC).  PEAC’s mission is to empower individuals with disabilities through cycling. Our Active Transportation Program provides targeted walking, biking, and bus training to over 170 students ages 14-26 with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Oakland, Macomb, and Wayne Counties special education programs.

Waiting for bus SHHS

PEAC Students wait to board a SMART bus in Metro Detroit

Independent travel options like a fixed route bus connect individuals with disabilities to their communities for education, employment and social activities and are essential components of living an independent and spontaneous lifestyle.  Travel training quickly builds student confidence and shifts mindsets. Before training, many teachers and students do not recognize the fixed route bus as a viable option. By the end of their first year of transportation education, teachers are using the fixed route bus for field trips, and students are reassuring me that when they get an apartment of their own, they will make sure it is on a bus line. Students see themselves as capable and the bus as a lifeline to independence.

ATP Visions bike group (1)

PEAC Students’ Bike Group

Nationally, about 15% of school age individuals have one or more developmental disabilities.  Developmental disabilities include (but are not limited to) autism, down syndrome and intellectual disabilities.  Travel training supports these individuals because it offers them the time they need to learn how to use and feel comfortable with the system.

At our first travel training session, Ali recognized the power of the bus “Whoa! I can get to Wyandotte on this bus? I never go places unless my sister or dad drives me. At first I was scared to ride the bus by my house by myself because I was scared I would get lost, but now I know that I CAN.”

Without education and training, the fixed route bus system remains inaccessible for students with many individuals with developmental disabilities, and they will remain reliant on family, friends, and door to door services.  Just like sidewalks, curb cuts and wheelchair ramps make it possible for individuals with physical disabilities to travel to bus stops and board the bus, travel training makes it possible for students with developmental disabilities to learn how to safely and confidently access public transportation.   As Michigan moves forward in building a stronger public transportation network, we need to ensure that infrastructure and education go hand-in-hand as part of an accessible and equitable system.

For more information about PEAC and the work they do, visit their website

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