In October 2009, we convened the Youth with Disabilities Transportation Roundtable in Savannah, Georgia as part of a pre-conference at the 15th International Division on Career Development and Transition Annual Conference. The 2-day roundtable brought together youth with disabilities, parents, educators, researchers, and professionals within the transportation and disability communities together to develop an action plan that would address identified barriers to transportation for youth with disabilities. Marvin Brown, a guest speaker and former director of WVSA arts connection, concluded his presentation with the words, “The Beginning,” and his pronouncement that “This is not the end, but the beginning.” It was and is a simple yet perfect way to describe the roundtable’s goal – the beginning. The beginning to future conversations about transportation. The beginning to making transportation solutions a reality. The exchange of ideas resulted in the creation or the beginning of a new initiative at Easter Seals Project ACTION – Enhancing Youth Mobility – with the goal of improving access to transportation for youth with disabilities, specifically youth in transition.
Easter Seals Project ACTION shared this message at the Transportation Choices for Individuals with Autism Conference sponsored by the University Transportation Research Center 2 and hosted by Rutgers University’s Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation. The conference focused on the needs of individuals with autism when using transportation. Teaching individuals with autism the skills to navigate transportation, and incorporating technologies, and services within existing systems and life skills programming can expand transportation options available to individuals with autism. Autism is a developmental disorder that impacts the development of social and communication skills and stereotyped or patterned behavior. The fixed schedules and routes of trains or subways have a set pattern to which some individuals with autism are attracted. Researchers are hoping to utilize this pattern to teach life skills to individuals with autism. One such program – Subway Sleuths – is being offered by the New York Transit Museum to children with autism between 9-10 years old. The program teaches children about trains and transit, but also connects children with each other to enhance their social and communication skills. New York Transit Museum plans to expand this successful and popular program this fall.
Transportation is vitally important for people of all abilities to get to work, school, home, appointments, errands, socialize with friends and family, and travel to destinations. For youth with disabilities, access to transportation is the beginning to a future that becomes easier to realize, bringing with it opportunities and independence. With continued creativity and innovation in teaching youth with disabilities at an early age about transportation, a new future and beginning awaits them.