For those with autism or other special needs, the importance of independence and community inclusion is invaluable for a fulfilling life. Using public transportation to travel to employment, social outings or medical appointments is a key contributor to participate in the surrounding communities.
“Access to transportation means mobility,” according Ride Connection’s website, a Portland nonprofit organization working with community partners to secure safe and reliable transportation for seniors and those with disabilities. “Mobility opens doors. It allows a person to be independent and it offers a way to access life’s essentials and connect with community.”
Ride Connection offers a variety of programs to individualize the experience of its riders, from training riders how to safely use public transportation to shuttle services to neighborhood centers. Door-to-door services for riders with disabilities is offered at no cost and offered to partner agencies for a wide variety of needs such as medical, shopping, supportive services, recreational and more.
These services, while mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), are imperative for living a whole life.
“Public transit is convenient, flexible, affordable and allows people to connect to community services they need,” says Mary Fetsch, media relations director with Tri-Met. TriMet operates a comprehensive transit network in the Portland metro area providing about 11 million annual rides annually to customers with a variety of needs. It offers a number of services aimed at making it easier for older customers and/or people with disabilities to get where they need to go, independently and safely, Fetsch says.
Accessibility features include such things as: low-floor boarding ramps; lifts; the ability to “kneel” to allow easier boarding; an onboard audio system announcing major stops; reduced fares for customers who qualify as an “honored citizen,” and service animals are permitted on the entire transit system.
“A majority our our clients do not have driver’s licenses. Utilizing public transportation is often their only consistent means to get around in order to perform life’s necessary activities,” says Marie Johnson, founder and director of Empowerment Services, a Portland nonprofit committed to a holistic approach for supporting adults with individualized and structured employment alternatives, community experiences and daily living skills.
“It’s important to remember that once this population has graduated from high school, sadly their social opportunities can drop significantly. Having access to consistent transportation is a must, not only playing a part in meeting the individual’s daily living needs but also as a means to further support that individual’s social and emotional welfare.”
TriMet also has LIFT door-to-door service for those who are unable to use the fixed-route system due to a disability or disabling health condition. About one million rides are provided each year on LIFT to those that are determined eligible for this program. The organization looks to continuously improve and expand its offerings, Fetsch adds.
In southwest Washington, C-Tran operates fixed routes throughout Clark County, as well as its on-demand C-Van, a point-to-point, shared transportation service for riders with disabilities. Many factors can impact whether a passenger uses the main bus route, a fixed route or needs extra support via the shared-ride on the C-Van, says Walt Gordon, C-Tran’s passenger service manager: the complexity of the route, whether the rider has completed travel training support and the family’s comfort level.
C-Tran partners with several agencies including: the Clark County Office of Developmental Disabilities, the ARC of Clark County and the case workers within the social services division. Additionally, Gordon says they partner with local education service districts through its transition programs to build life skills and to dovetail what students are currently learning.
“People with disabilities should have a level of service based on their capabilities rather than their diagnosis,” Gordon says.