With all the facets involved with the training drivers and monitors on special needs, its should be no surprise that there is one type of training that involves not only the transportation department, but the students, their parents and public transit agencies. Travel training, as it is commonly known, teaches individuals with disabilities to use public transportation independently. In New York City, the department of education’s (DOE) program helps its students make a transition from the yellow bus to the many different options available, whether it be the subway, city bus or dial-a-ride.
“Freedom, independence, adult living opportunities and typical living are just a few of the benefits of learning to travel independently,” said Peggy Groce, director of the NYC DOE Office of Travel Training for Special Education District 75 (D75). “As one young man said, ‘It’s the only time I’m treated just like everyone else.’”
D75 is a citywide program that provides special education and support to students with severe disabilities. Approximately 22,000 students receive these special education services from district. The D75 Office of Travel Training provides this specialized training to students with disabilities.
“It is a comprehensive, one-to-one intensive instruction in the skills and behaviors necessary for safe and independent travel using public transportation, where appropriate, provided by specially trained personnel,” said Groce, who began working in the program during the 1970-71 school year. “The NYC DOE started the first school-based travel training program of its kind. We are the most continuously operating program in the United States, and possibly internationally.”
Travel training is typically provided to students between the ages of 14 and 21. The process usually begins with a referral of a student and then an assessment by a travel training teacher. If the student is considered eligible, parental consent for the one-to-one instruction is requested. Students are then trained in the essential skills and behaviors for safe and independent travel.
“This includes awareness of environment, recognition and avoidance of danger/obstacles, decision-making, problem-solving, appropriate social behavior, recognition of need for assistance, communication, initiation of actions, pedestrian skills and public intimacy,” said Groce. “These skills and behaviors are taught while traveling the route from home to destination and back.”
The program also instructs trainees to deal with the inevitable travel contingencies facing commuters, like delayed trains and subways, streets that are closed to traffic, construction barriers, subways using express stops instead of locals, buses going out of service, flooding, and, at times, disruption of service.
“These experiences are inevitable when traveling and so the students must have the opportunity to learn to handle such occurrences. If the events do not occur naturally, we contrive experiences that are similar in the requirement of the skills to handle the situations,” added Groce.
The New York City program graduates approximately 300 students a year. Parents are the first to compliment the program, including blogging about it to the World Wide Web. Barry Seidel, an attorney in Forest Hills, N.Y., posted a piece on his daughter, who graduated from the program last summer.
“In her last year in high school she took the travel training course (an amazing program offered to special needs students in the NYC high schools). She did not pass the final exam (she talked to the fake stranger), but she re-took the class, passed it, and now travels on her own. The last few months of school she took the city bus to school and back. This trip included a bus transfer. I had more than one neighbor tell me they saw her on the bus and were choked up. I only followed her the first day, after that I just marveled at her accomplishment,” wrote Seidel.
Reprinted from the February 2008 issue of School Transportation News magazine. All rights reserved.