Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tailoring ESPA Publications for Your Community: Denton & Tarrant Counties, Texas

Easter Seals Project ACTION updated the popular You Can Ride travel training booklet in 2012. The book’s new design features updated photos and page slits so that travel trainers can insert their own pictures. In addition, ESPA also offers a You Can Ride design template for transit systems and trainers who want to create books using local photos, colors specific to their transit system, or who want to create sections related to modes available in a community, such as rail, bus, or ferry.
Easter Seals North Texas, in coordination with the Denton County Transportation Authority and SPAN, put the offer to adapt You Can Ride to the test, and as a result have developed an easy-to-understand version of the booklet with photographs tailored to the environment and the transit systems in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Neat innovations include showing pictures of customers buying fare tickets online and using the fare payment kiosk at a light rail station. In addition, Easter Seals North Texas artfully included a map watermark as background on all of the booklet pages. For Fort Worth, Tarrant MHMR and the Fort Worth Transportation Authority (the T) created two versions of the You Can Ride guide—one for a general audience and the other primarily for school district staff and others who work with transition-aged youth. 
North Texas Travels, an Easter Seals North Texas project, uses the Denton booklet as part of their program to teach people with disabilities, caregivers, and veterans about local and regional transportation options. The program’s designed to empower individuals with skills to safely and confidently use public transit.
Tarrant County MHMR has also created a pocket-sized guide with trip and emergency contact information styled after the GET Going! Guide developed by ESPA and The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation to assist passengers who may become confused or anxious while using public transportation. 
Both projects were funded by the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG).

Has your community tailored an Easter Seals Project ACTION product for your riders or operators?  If so, let us know!  Email examples or photographs to espablog@easterseals.com, and we’ll share them on our blog!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Ask the Expert: Cherie Leporatti, Travel Trainer, WMATA

Cherie Leporttia is a travel trainer with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) in Washington DC. Metro provides group orientations, station tours, trips on training buses, and one-to-one training to over 6,000 transit riders each year. In this interview Cherie Leporttia shares information about her background and Metro’s travel training program.
1. Tell us about your travel training program.
 WMATA Photograph by Larry Levine
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) established its travel training program in 2008 and hired three employees that are fully dedicated to travel training.  One staff member is a Certified Orientation and Mobility Instructor.  All three staff came to the job with extensive education and experience in the humanities field, along with knowledge of the transit system as it pertains to programs serving people with disabilities.  In 2010, a pilot program was established utilizing funds received from a grant to hire an additional six full-time travel trainers. These travel trainers were and continue to be hired as contractors.  Metro's in-house travel trainers work across all jurisdictions conducting outreach, providing workshops for professionals who work within our target populations, and working directly with customers participating in travel training.  The contract travel trainers are assigned to work in specific jurisdictional areas. Our team also has ASL and Spanish interpretation capabilities. 
We provide group orientations to approximately 6,000 people each year.  We provide a detailed overview of our program, a trip on a training bus to a prearranged destination, a tour of a Metro Station and a return to the trip origin.  In-house travel trainers are fluent with our programs and services and are careful to adapt each presentation to meet the needs and interests of each audience. We also provide one-to-one training as part of our travel training program.  We work with approximately 500 people each year in our one-to-one program.  We measure success by calculating the number of trips taken on MetroAccess prior to travel training and comparing it with the number of trips taken on MetroAccess and fixed route following travel training.
2. What got you interested in this line of work?
I became interested in this line of work years ago and possibly before travel training became a notable field.  As a young girl in the 1970s, I helped my mom in volunteering with one of the first therapeutic riding programs in the country.  I helped out with training the ponies and introducing them to mobility devices, unusual noises and desensitizing them so that they would be safe for riders with disabilities.  After graduating from college, I continued my passion of working with adults with disabilities through mostly part-time work as I raised my children.  In the late 1990s, I went to work full time as a rehabilitation counselor in Fairfax County, Virginia. As my career progressed within my chosen field, I grew more and more interested in transportation.  In my line of work, so much focus was spent on job training and coaching at the job site but so many issues and problems surrounded my consumers' transportation needs.  Many of my consumers lost their jobs because there was no reliable transportation or they could not afford the cost of paratransit.  In 2007 I relocated within the Fairfax County Government serving as its ADA Coordinator before joining WMATA’s Travel Training program.
3. Why do you believe travel training is so important?
I believe that travel training is important because it helps people  realize their potential to participate in the community, increases their independence and confidence, increases their employment options, saves money and ultimately improves paratransit performance as customers exercise their options, which can reduce dependence on paratransit.

For many, working with a travel trainer may be the first time they are without a parent, teacher, or a known person within their circle of support.  This is often an excellent opportunity for a professional travel trainer to conduct an unbiased assessment on the individual's ability to adhere to safety standards within the community, follow verbal or physical cues in a public setting, abide by social norms, and travel from A to B via public transportation through their community with notable familiar landmarks. Consumers who can travel independently will naturally gain a sense of independence and increased confidence. This may look very different from person to person, but the effect is the same.  One person may be able to travel via bus from their home to the neighborhood public library while another may have mastered a one hour trip from their home to their worksite that involves multiple transfers. Both customers will have increased their independence and both may feel the same sense of confidence within themselves. People who have the skills to travel on public transportation will naturally increase their job opportunities. Job seekers will no longer be bound by a relative’s ability to drive them to the local mall or traffic which may impede the MetroAccess van.  If they can use fixed-route service they will increase their on-time arrivals to and from work, decrease their transportation costs since our fixed-route system is free or reduced for people with disabilities and older adults, and they can flex their schedules as they wish since fixed-route transportation has generous fixed hours. 

Each time one of our travel training students chooses to ride fixed-route instead of paratransit, they are decreasing demand for that already taxed system. MetroAccess is a shared ride paratransit system.  Prior to the establishment of our travel training program, customers had little choice but now as we work with each person to carefully address their concerns, teach them safety measures and real skills that they are able to confidently choose to ride fixed route.  Decreased demand on paratransit allows us to focus more on those travelers who have no other choice for their trips. I feel like I need to mention here that people who participate in travel training will always have the choice to use fixed-route or paratransit for each trip that they are taking. One goal for travel training is to teach our customers about their choices.
4. How do you address caregiver and family concerns when working with students or young adults with disabilities?
Metro is very generous when it comes to Personal Care Givers (PCAs).  In fact, anyone over the age of 5 can serve as a PCA on our system.  When scheduling the first session, our travel trainers always invite the customer’s PCA to participate.  We share with them the individualized plan that we have created, a schedule with the bus routes, locations, and times. In addition,  we exchange telephone numbers and agree to contact or have our customer call them at specific points along our route.  In most cases the PCA must be on board and supportive of our efforts before our customer can be successful.

We also provide PCAs with ways that they can be supportive in our training.  We may encourage them to practice the route with us and then on their own so they can support what we are teaching. Sometimes we will encourage them to follow behind us in their personal car so they can get a feel for the route and what the bus route looks like. We might encourage them to meet us at our destination.  We might ask them to post the bus route in the home and review the times schedule with their child/consumer.  Each situation is unique but the goal to keep everyone safe, well informed and comfortable is the same.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

In Memory of Julie Cunningham, COMTO President and CEO

Easter Seals Project ACTION would like to recognize the contributions that Julie Cunningham made to the transit industry, her support of equitable access to transportation, and her encouragement of opportunities for minority professionals in transit.


Friday, June 13, 2014

TSA Resources for Air Passengers with Disabilities

Transportation Security Administration
Air travel can be difficult, and navigating an airport security checkpoint can be especially difficult when traveling with a disability. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) provides specific resources for passengers with disabilities and certain medical conditions. All TSA personnel who work at airport checkpoints receive training on screening passengers with disabilities and medical conditions, which emphasizes treating passengers with dignity, respect, and sensitivity. In addition, there are the TSA Cares, Passenger Support Specialist (PSS), and the TSA Pre✓™ programs.
TSA Cares is a helpline that assists travelers with disabilities and medical conditions and their families prior to airport arrival.  Travelers can call ahead and ask questions about screening as well as what to expect at the security checkpoint. TSA Cares provides information about screening that is relevant to the traveler’s specific disability or medical condition, and travelers also have the opportunity to speak with disability experts at TSA.
Travelers may call TSA Cares toll free at 1-855-787-2227 prior to traveling with questions about screening policies, procedures, and what to expect at the security checkpoint. TSA Cares serves as an additional, dedicated resource specifically for passengers with disabilities, passengers who have medical conditions or other circumstances who want to prepare for the screening process prior to flying.
The hours of operation for the TSA Cares help line are Monday through Friday 8 a.m. – 11 p.m. EST and weekends and holidays 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. EST. Travelers who are deaf or hard of hearing can use a relay service to contact TSA Cares or can e-mail TSA-ContactCenter@dhs.gov.
When a passenger with a disability or medical condition calls TSA Cares, a representative will provide assistance, either with information about screening that is relevant to the passenger’s specific disability or medical condition, or the passenger may be referred to disability experts at TSA.
TSA recommends that passengers call no less than 72 hours ahead of travel so that TSA Cares has the opportunity to coordinate checkpoint support with a TSA Customer Service Manager located at the airport when necessary. If a passenger wants information about screening for a particular device, TSA recommends that he or she call TSA Cares to learn more about what to expect throughout the screening process.

In addition to TSA Cares, there is the Passenger Support Specialist (PSS) program.  The PSSs are Transportation Security Officers and Supervisors who, in addition to their regular checkpoint duties, have volunteered to take on the responsibility of assisting passengers who may be in need of assistance.  The PSS volunteers receive special training to provide assistance and resolve traveler-related screening concerns, primarily for travelers with disabilities. At some airports, Passenger Support Specialists complement the TSA Cares program. TSA personnel can call PSS to assist travelers who may need assistance.

Travelers who need assistance or are concerned about TSA screening can ask a checkpoint officer or supervisor for a Passenger Support Specialist.  The PSS volunteers are trained to be caring, empathetic, calm, poised, and determined to assist and solve any problem that arises.  TSA would like to have a PSS in the vicinity of every checkpoint to provide proactive assistance and resolve traveler-related screening concerns.

Another TSA program that assists passengers is TSA Pre✓™. This program allows low-risk travelers to experience faster, more efficient screening at participating U.S. airport checkpoints for domestic and international travel.

The TSA Pre✓™ expedited screening program allows members to pass through airport security checkpoints without removing their belt, shoes, laptop from the bag, light outerwear/jacket and 3-1-1 compliant bag. Under the new application process, U.S. citizens can pre-enroll for the program online and visit an application center to verify their identities and provide fingerprints. Once the TSA approves an application, in a matter of weeks or even days, the agency issues the applicant a “known traveler number,” which allows that person to use the Pre-Check security lanes at more than 115 participating airports. There is an $85 non-refundable application processing fee, and the membership is valid for five years. Also, TSA extended Pre-Check enrollment to include active-duty and reserve members of the U.S. military services, the National Guard, and the U.S. Coast Guard based on their Department of Defense identification numbers.

TSA will always incorporate random and unpredictable security measures throughout the airport and no individual will be guaranteed TSA Pre✓™ screening.
Travelers are encouraged to visit TSA’s website for travelers with disabilities and medical conditions at http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/travelers-disabilities-and-medical-conditions for more information.   This website provides specific information on what to expect for passengers with specific disabilities or medical conditions.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

U.S. Department of Transportation Announces Winners of Pedestrian Safety Grants

Pedestrian safety is especially important to people with disabilities traveling independently on public transit. People with disabilities need safe routes to bus stops and other forms of transit. Grants like this can support community recognition of the importance of pedestrian safety and awareness.

New York City Puts Money Behind Accessible Taxi Goal

The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) voted to enact a 30 cent surcharge to all taxicab rides, starting in 2015. The revenue collected from this surcharge will fund procurement of accessible vehicles.

New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission Votes to Enact 30 Cent Accessibility Surcharge

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ask the Expert – Judi Bonilla, Travel Trainer at We Get Around! In San Diego, California

Travel trainer and gerontologist, Judi Bonilla shares her insights on travel training and why it is so important for older adults.
1. Tell us about your travel training program.
We Get Around!  is a volunteer organization with a vision to improve the quality of life for San Diego's senior community. We’ve created a small group travel training program led by an experienced travel trainer that combines travel instruction, brain health information, and low-impact fitness.
The class is taught in the field using fixed-route buses and trolleys. Local landmarks are incorporated into class destinations, providing students exposure to a variety of travel patterns and community diversity. The class begins with a trip briefing, learning topic, and handouts so students can recreate the trip independently. Lessons include purchasing tickets, using accessibility services, personal safety, transit etiquette, and trip planning. The focus is to provide an environment where an adult learner can develop and practice the skills needed to travel independently.
We Get Around! is a volunteer-led program and receives no funding from city, state or local public transportation entities.
2. What got you interested in this line of work?
I am a gerontologist and early on saw the benefits travel training can offer older adults. In the field of aging, our work is focused on the principles of successful aging and aging in place. Transportation is a critical issue for older adults and their families.  This program fills both a social need and gap in the public transit infrastructure for the residents of San Diego. Prior to We Get Around!, there was no travel training program serving the  San Diego area.
3. Why do you believe travel training for seniors is so important?
Travel training is a great tool to use as older adults begin to decrease how far they drive, regulate where they drive, and when they drive. Having the “What Happens When I Can No Longer Drive” and the “Giving Up The Car Keys” conversations are tough for families and health care providers. Travel training is an excellent solution when exploring alternatives to driving. Research has shown that social interaction offers older adults many benefits. Staying socially active and maintaining interpersonal relationships can help maintain good physical and emotional health and cognitive function. One report found that men and women ages 60 to 80 reported that taking a short walk just three times a week increased the size of brain regions linked to planning and memory over the course of a year. Linking the use of public transportation to better health outcomes is another way elders can benefit from travel training
4. How do you address caregiver or family concerns when working with older adults?
Students of the program are self-referred and run the range of physical abilities. Some use mobility aids while other have complete mobility. At the first class orientation, students and caregivers learn how classes are researched, planned, and tested. We welcome a family member or caregiver to attend the first class with the students. Often the caregiver or adult child gets as much from the class as the student! In addition, we post class trips to YouTube and often tweet live on our trips. 
5. How do health and wellness tie into public transportation for the population you work with?
This is one of the most exciting aspects of travel training. I recently presented a poster at the 2014 American Society on Aging Conference. The poster was titled Shifting the Image of Public Transportation from Have To...To Want To! With over 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day the need to improve health at every age is increasingly important. Recently, the Alzheimer’s Association included in its recommendations to stay socially connected, and exercise both body and mind. Travel training makes a powerful connection to all three!