May is Older Americans Month, and the 2016 OAM theme is “Blaze a Trail,” with civic engagement being one of the areas in which older adults are encouraged to get involved or take a more active role. Community service has both physical and mental benefits, according to the Administration for Community Living. Transportation systems are encouraged to welcome seniors and people with disabilities who want to have a role on advisory committees, who provide input into local planning activities, and who volunteer as mentors or peers to other riders. The National Aging and Disability Transportation Center (NADTC) recommends focusing on four areas that will help your transportation system blaze a trail to greater accessibility.
Before creating a new service or route, involve older adults and people with disabilities in program design and oversight. Ask current and potential riders about their experience with transportation services and their mobility needs. Rider input means rider buy-in. Customers who know that their input has been considered are more likely to be satisfied customers.
Provide riders opportunity for feedback. Checking in with riders on their level of satisfaction is an essential component of customer service.
Mobility managers can serve as liaisons to the community, helping to explain transportation options, communicate the system’s initiatives, and engage community members in meetings and advisory committees.
Sidewalks, streets, ramps, benches and lifts are crucial for physical accessibility; however those features make up only one part of the accessibility equation. Communication and information round out the concept of accessibility. Older adults and people with disabilities need to know the transportation choices available to them, and for aging adults, information about options can help ease fears for those no longer able to drive.
Recommended communications include:
- Brochures, flyers, websites, social media, and verbal information provided by transit operators and staff should always be offered or posted in a courteous, respectful and friendly manner. Refer to ADA guidance for alterative format requirements. When interacting with riders in-person or over the phone, invite questions and explain key features of communications. Provide a friendly reminder that information is available through a variety of media.
- Be aware of your community and rider needs — providing information in languages other than English reinforces the message that you want to provide excellent customer service and truly engage all community members.
Provide Excellent Service
- Offer assistance when needed or requested, especially to new riders, older adults and people with disabilities who may be experiencing physical, mental or emotional difficulties.
- Establish a travel training program provided by professionals or through a peer-to-peer or buddy program to help new or returning riders overcome concerns about using public transit. If you’re just getting started in the process of developing a travel training program for older adults, Easter Seals Project Action Consulting offers an archived webinar called “Ten Steps to Starting a Travel Training Program.” The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a) and Eldercare Locator offer resources on driver transition and mobility options for older adults.
Ensure ADA Adherance
- Coordinate with your local jurisdiction to ensure safe, unobstructed pathways to transit stops.
- Perform regular maintenance and pre-route checks to make sure that lifts, securement devices and accessibility features are kept in good working order.
- Provide verbal and/or electronic stop announcements. The ADA requires stop announcements, including transfer point announcements, on fixed-route service. No matter the type of service your system provides, verbal announcements are beneficial for all passengers.
- Accommodate service animals as permitted by U.S. Department of Transportation regulations, and hold refresher training for staff on ADA requirements and customer service policies related to service animals.
- Encourage a culture of accessible, respectful service within your agency and among your employees. Happy riders are return riders.
How to Keep Your System Age- and Ability-Friendly
- Ensure that lettering and font on signs and instructions is easily legible. Serif fonts are traditionally easier to read and typeface should be 12 point or larger whenever possible. The National Institute on Aging and AIGA are good resources for age-friendly design.
- When speaking with customers in-person or over the phone, consider tone and volume. Have a pad of paper and pen available in case you or the rider needs to communicate in writing.
- Riders of all abilities have differing familiarity with technology — including fare payment, kiosks, websites and mobile apps. Be prepared to explain how riders can use different technologies employed by your system.
- In general, older adults place more emphasis on personal contact and information dissemination methods that involve interaction (e.g., through clubs, places of worship and senior centers) than do younger customers. Coordinate with community centers and organizations to help get the word out to senior audiences or to family members and caregivers.
Interaction with the local transportation network and involvement of seniors and people with disabilities in their personal mobility decisions can make a difference in not only the success of your service, but as noted, interaction can bring about physical and mental benefits for riders and your staff.
Rachel Beyerle is communications director for the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center.