Transportation— A Critical Need for Older People who are Blind or Low Vision

Person boarding paratransit bus using white cane

Editor’s note: This post is another in our series related to Older Americans Month. Transportation remains an ongoing problem for people who are blind or low vision people, and this post lays out some of the efforts underway to increase accessibility.

Guidance Documents on Making Transportation More Accessible

Recently, Neva Fairchild, National Aging and Vision Loss Specialist, and Pris Rogers, Special Advisor on Aging and Vision Loss at the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), completed two guidance documents as joint publications for the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center (NADTC) and AFB. Why are these documents important to the transportation industry and their older passengers? Read what the authors of Meeting the Needs of Older Passengers with Vision Loss: Guidance for Transportation Providers (nadtc.org) had to say:

Vision loss is a pervasive, and often an invisible or unrecognized, problem among older people. At least half of Americans aged sixty-five and older are at high risk of eye diseases that can lead to some degree of visual impairment.  Currently, at least twelve million Americans over the age of sixty report significant difficulty seeing, resulting in reduced ability to engage in necessary daily tasks or activities they once found enjoyable. As the US population ages, the number is expected to grow exponentially, possibly even double.

Older people with vision loss experience higher rates of diabetes, falls, and hearing loss, which increases the need for transportation services and makes providing these services more difficult. They may have other functional limitations which impact their ability to use transportation services. These could include cognitive decline, physical limitations that require the use of a walker or wheelchair, trouble standing for long periods of time, difficulty with extreme temperatures, and other disabilities that may or may not be hidden.

Age-related vision changes can make it hard to navigate the world safely. Older people may experience blurry vision, poor night vision, sensitivity to glare, increased time needed to adjust to bright or low light settings, reduced contrast sensitivity, and reduced ability to focus on fine detail. Light levels play a critical role in the ability to see and get around in both familiar and unfamiliar settings. If there is too much glare, light can effectively “blind” someone as well as create shadows that look like obstacles. Depth perception may also be poor. When one eye has better vision than the other, it is difficult for older people with vision loss to judge the height of steps or curbs, so their risk of tripping or falling is increased (paras. 1-3).

The guidance document referenced above addresses what transportation providers need to know about transportation challenges and best practices as well as specific information for drivers of transit vehicles.

Advice for Transportation Providers

The guide covers the overall challenges that older people new to blindness or low vision experience, specific transportation challenges such as accessing a vehicle, changes in routes or bus stops, changes in how transportation providers operate, such as during the pandemic, and technology challenges.

A very important element of the guide is a discussion of what providers can do to provide better transportation services, including:

  • Learning from riders who are blind or low vision by including them on advisory boards and offering targeted surveys and focus groups.
  • Providing training for drivers. The guidance for drivers discussed in the next section offers specific information on techniques such as human guide.
  • Conducting outreach to “find” and educate potential riders new to blindness/ low vision who may not have used public transportation in the past or used it unsuccessfully.
  • Connecting people who are blind/ low vision to service providers. The document lists how to find these services through the APH ConnectCenter.

Advice for Drivers

The publication Drivers Make the Difference for Older Passengers with Vision Loss (nadtc.org) offers advice for transit vehicle drivers, including signs that a passenger may have low vision or blindness and tips for helping passengers effectively and safely.

Examples

  • Drivers should first ask the passengers clarifying questions to determine what help they need.
  • How to provide Human guide assistance
  • How to give clear verbal directions using concrete examples and precise verbal descriptions.
  • How to help a passenger who cannot find their way to the entrance of a building when dropped off.

How Can You Use These Guidance Documents?

The documents can be used to advocate for transportation services and driver and provider training.

What About Guidance for People Who Are Blind/ Low Vision Seeking Transportation?

Dr. Adele Crudden at The National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision (NRTC) at Mississippi State University has developed A Transportation Guide for Persons who are Blind or Have Low Vision. The guide includes important elements and options related to transportation. These include orientation and mobility training, bioptic driving, public transportation, paratransit services, ride-sharing, carpooling, paid and volunteer drivers, protocols to follow for the different options, and resources for finding and using these options. The NRTC also provides a guide for developing a customized transportation plan.

Another useful document for consumers is on safety tips for Uber and Lyft.

Learn More

The Aging and Vision Loss National Coalition (AVLNC) has put together a Transportation Working Group to work on transportation issues related to aging and vision loss. The group is open to volunteers. Contact:  info@visionservealliance.org

Also, the AVLNC has offered a series of webinars on transportation options and funding.

References

Drivers make the difference for older passengers with vision loss. (n.d.). Retrieved April 25, 2023, from https://www.nadtc.org/wp-content/uploads/NADTC-Drivers-Make-a-Difference-12-9-22-WEB-508.pdf

Meeting the Needs of Older Passengers with Vision Loss: Guidance for Transportation Providers (n.d.). Retrieved April 25, 2023, https://www.nadtc.org/wp-content/uploads/NADTC-Vision-Loss-Paper-12-9-22-WEB-508.pdf


 


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