Young adults with moderate to severe disabilities who age out of special education if at all possible must have the skills to navigate safely through their community using public transportation for the purposes of employment, post-secondary education or training, or recreation or leisure. To lack these skills means that these young adults may effectively be trapped in their homes due to their constant dependence upon others for transportation. “Travel training,” as this skill is called, can be taught, preferably well before the completion of high school. (A different skill is taught to young adults who are blind or visually impaired.) However, travel training is an often under-looked yet vitally important component of a child’s transition plan. The Government Accountability Office cites limited access to reliable public transportation as a major obstacle for individuals with disabilities and may be one of the reasons for the high unemployment rate among young disabled adults compared to their peers (13.5% vs. 7.3%).
Transition plans, which are the blueprint to assist the child in reaching his post-high school goals, are developed as part of an IEP usually when the child turns 14 but no later than 16. A thoughtfully written transition plan will carefully delineate the steps needed to ensure the student can achieve those post-high school goals. And for appropriately identified students, travel training can be a key related service in the transition plan.
Who can provide this service? Travel training can be provided by the schools as long as school personnel themselves receive travel training from organizations such as Easter Seals, which is attempting to establish standards and certification in this area. Travel training may also be offered through public transit agencies or human service agencies. The field of travel training is burgeoning as new populations, such as the elderly who are trying to maintain independence as they age, are requesting this type of training.
Given the diverse groups that now offer training, parents need to do some research to determine what constitutes a good training program, which should be much more than sitting in a classroom watching a film on taking the bus. One group that offers detailed information on what to look for in a program is the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY). One program in particular, which was started by Margaret Groce in the New York City Public Schools in 1970 and has now graduated more than 13,000 students, serves as a model for other budding programs.
According to Ms. Groce, programs need to be tailored to the specific student, utilizing his or her strengths and acknowledging weaknesses. The program should offer direct instruction, usually one on one, and will lead to the youth being able to “solo” in the world. Before embarking on a travel training program, students need to be aware of their own personal space, their environment, and be able to recognize and respond to danger, all skills which should be introduced as early as elementary school. Although it is helpful for the student to be able to read, tell time, and use simple math, lack of these skills is not a reason to exclude the student from training.
Travel training starts in the student’s home where his or her functional skills are assessed by the trainer. The family must consent to the training and agree to allow the young adult to travel independently once the course is successfully completed. Completion of the course entails a long list of skills that students must master with 100% accuracy: crossing streets safely, with and without traffic lights; boarding a correct bus or subway; recognizing where to exit their transport; making decisions; knowing when to ask for help and from whom; following directions; recognizing and avoiding dangerous situations and obstacles; behaving appropriately; handling unexpected situations; and dealing appropriately with strangers. Students will first travel with their trainers, then they will travel independently with a trainer shadowing them, and ultimately, students will be able to solo on their own.
Learning to travel solo can be an anxiety-provoking task for both the student and family, but it must be taught where it is appropriate. The ability to navigate safely and independently in the community is essential for the transition to the adult world. With thoughtful planning, deliberation, and a program tailored specifically to the needs of particular students, young adults with disabilities can confidently venture out on their own.