While transportation is an essential linkage for community inclusion, challenges related to access and service features of various transport modes available in the New Jersey can greatly limit the capability of persons with developmental disabilities (DD) to meet essential needs.
A recently released Rutgers report presents these issues as captured in over 200 audio-recorded interviews with New Jersey residents, aged 18 and older, living with DD. This research was undertaken with funding from the New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities (NJCDD) and was led by Rutgers researchers, in collaboration with The Arc of New Jersey.
Based on the study’s participant demographic questionnaire, interviewees resided in one of 79 New Jersey municipalities from a total of 18 counties. The majority identified as female, white not Hispanic, and were between the ages of 22 to 64 years old.
In discussing the study goals, Cecilia Feeley, Ph.D., transportation autism project manager at the Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation (CAIT) and the study’s principal investigator explained “Our intention was to amplify the voices of persons with DD in New Jersey regarding their transportation experiences, issues, and needs, with the goal of developing recommendations to achieve positive change and transportation improvements to benefit this transportation disadvantaged population. Our research team was especially impressed with the candidness of our interviewees in discussing this vital issue impacting their lives.”
Analysis of the interview recordings demonstrated that almost half of the interviewees discussed transportation barriers, including general transport barriers, and financial and safety-related transport challenges. Examples of general barriers included lack of available transportation services near one’s residence and/or near desired destinations contributing to missed opportunities, uncertainty with how to determine available options, and difficulty in relying upon others for transportation. One interviewee, Myra, offered, “[Traveling is] hard because sometimes people discriminate against people with disabilities.” Financial barriers focused on transportation costs and negative economic impact when transportation issues resulted in an interviewee arriving late for work.
Andrea Lubin, senior researcher with the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center (VTC) and the study’s co-principal investigator, offered that “In an automobile-centric state such as New Jersey accessing vital services and activities – such as employment, healthcare, and daily living needs – can be especially difficult for persons without a driver’s license or access to a motor vehicle. Thus heightening the importance of other available and accessible transportation options.”
In total, interviewees shared experiences with eight different transportation modes, with the three most discussed modes being walking, NJ TRANSIT fixed-route transit (e.g. bus, rail, light rail), and NJ’s ADA complementary paratransit service, Access Link. Both positive and adverse encounters with all eight modes were shared and notably, many interviewees expressed appreciation for the mode(s) they use. Challenging experiences mentioned were most often mode-specific.
A total of 15 recommendations based on suggestions shared by interviewees and researcher analysis were developed and organized around the themes of increased investment in transportation; mobility as a service; and advocacy and education.
Among the researchers’ recommendations:
- Develop the NJ Division of Developmental Disabilities (NJDDD) payment program for New Jersey county paratransit services
- Create a voucher program using NJDDD funds to be used for ride-hailing (e.g Lyft, Uber) or taxi services
- Institute a statewide mobility manager dedicated to the needs of persons with DD
- Implement enhanced transportation staff training
- Provide accurate ride times for public and paratransit services
- Expand transportation advocacy that is inclusive of persons with DD
The final report and accompanying appendix are available free to download, as are many of the 200 interview recordings, at https://www.arcnj.org/programs/njsap/intheirownwords.html