Enhancing Paratransit Operator Customer Service Skills

Posted on August 19, 2013

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Customer service training for paratransit operators should also include respectful ways to communicate with a person who is using a wheelchair.
Customer service training for paratransit operators should also include respectful ways to communicate with a person who is using a wheelchair.

Customer perspective
In order to bring in the customer’s perspective with regard to transportation services for people with disabilities, it is highly recommended that providers establish a customer panel. This panel should include a diverse group of customers, including people of different ages, types of disabilities, genders and ethnicities.

“Get together three to five people, who represent your population served and develop a list of specific questions that they can answer about their experience using paratransit,” Smith says.

Developing a panel comprised of customers accomplishes several things: It allows the operator to hear how the customer perceives their service; and it helps operators become a little more comfortable with people with disabilities, Smith adds.

“They may come into the paratransit driving world without much direct experience or contact with people with disabilities, or very limited contact, so they may be a bit nervous about it,” Smith says.

If operations can’t manage to arrange a panel, which can take a bit of time within an organization, there are several disability service and advocacy group agencies that are willing to provide or send someone out to provide sensitivity or disability awareness training.

“The Centers for Independent Living, for example, often have someone on staff that would be able to talk to a group of operators to discuss disabilities and related issues,” Smith says.

Advisory committees
There are also advisory committees for paratransit service, which can provide feedback for services. The ESPA highly recommends that these committees be made up of people with disabilities.

“Sometimes you will have a disability advisory panel and it will be made up of service agency people. Those people who work in the field of disability service may be doing something like training people for employment or assisting people with rehabilitation type activities, but they are not people with disabilities directly,” Smith says.

While it’s fine to have service people on your panel, she explains, it is important to vary the representation from customers with disabilities. To ensure the effectiveness of your committee, it’s important to make considerations for who you are bringing in among people with disabilities and their skill in being able to serve on a committee in an effective way, Smith says.

“One of the downfalls that can happen is the advisory committee becomes a place where complaints can be made. You have people that are sitting on your advisory committee that are complaining about their rides specifically,” she explains.

To avoid this, you want to assist your advisory board to become more progressive with their approach so that they are talking about system issues as opposed to individual complaints.

Customers can provide other kinds of feedback as well, says McLaughlin, maybe not even feedback that is considered negative. Often advisory committees are asked to provide feedback for a change in policy, materials or process for ADA compliance.

“Sometimes agencies are looking to update their eligibility process for their paratransit service,” she adds, “So feedback from the disability community is very important in that case, because they are the ones that are going to have to go through that process.”

If policy issues arise with a customer, working directly with them to find a solution is recommended.   

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