A new report from the New Jersey Task Force on Transportation, Mobility, and Support Service Needs of Adults with Autism, led by CAIT-affiliated researcher Dr. Cecilia Feeley, highlights and identifies State policies and programs that can be improved to help remove or lessen barriers and enhance access to transportation and secondary support services. In addition to Dr. Feeley, the Task Force is also grateful for support and guidance from other members of CAIT including Brian Tobin, Research Project Manager. These recommendations build on multiple projects and studies into the transportation needs of those with disabilities by Dr. Feeley and the Transportation Autism Project.
Following a year-long process of reviewing current mobility practices, transportation infrastructure, and barriers to mobility for adults with autism, the New Jersey Task Force on Transportation, Mobility, and Support Service Needs of Adults with Autism published a new report outlining ways forward to improve transportation equity in the State.
The new report includes recommendations such as ensuring that transportation research funding includes money for mobility-related issues, that intelligent transportation technologies are developed for all modes of travel and in an inclusive way, and more.
In total, the task force identified 22 recommendations under 2 categories –14 of which were transportation and mobility focused and 8 that centered around support services and secondary/post-secondary services. Read the list below for a sample of the recommendations and follow this link for access to the full report.
After providing lawmakers visiting CAIT with a draft of the final report, the Task Force’s second recommendation was signed into law by Governor Murphy in 2020. Based on bills S623 and A2456, the law provides users of Access Link para-transit service with NJ Transit reduced fare cards. Thus eliminating the need for two different eligibility processes for persons with a disability while encouraging fixed-route ridership.
In addition, recent news illustrates how other recommendations from the Task Force are already being considered by lawmakers in the State. The Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee announced earlier this month that it advanced a package of eight bills to address barriers to transportation for people with special needs.
Bills in this package were drafted in response to the report by the New Jersey Task Force on Transportation, Mobility, and Support Service Needs of Adults with Autism, and include possible reviews of infrastructure design practices for highways and public transportation projects, expanded or modified service hours for paratransit services, and more according to the announcement.
The task force was chaired by Dr. Cecilia Feeley, manager of the Transportation Autism Project at Rutgers Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation (CAIT), who has been a leading researcher in mobility and transportation equity for adults with autism during the past decade in New Jersey.
“The recommendations stem from more than a year of reviewing current practices in the state, including barriers and opportunities available for adults with autism spectrum disorder, and testimonies from advocates,” Dr. Feeley said. “while also building from earlier research into the needs of adults with autism during the past decade.”
For example, these latest recommendations stem from a 2017 New Jersey State Legislature law that established the task force intending to study the State’s infrastructure to recommend changes that can be implemented to improve mobility, equity, and strengthen support services for those with disabilities.
An earlier study in 2015, titled “Detour to the Right Place: A Study with Recommendations for Addressing the Transportation Needs and Barriers of Adults on the Autism Spectrum in New Jersey,” helped to identify some of the common barriers faced by adults with autism and how that impacts the ways they interact with various transportation modes. The 2015 study also touched on how access to transportation impacted employment, quality of life, and more for people with disabilities.
Dr. Feeley said that the New Jersey Task Force’s latest recommendations on Transportation, Mobility, and Support Service Needs of Adults with Autism could significantly impact transportation equity and mobility if implemented.
“We learned a great deal about the challenges that impact transportation, mobility, secondary support services,” she said about the Task Force. “We believe that by adopting these recommendations, we can improve the quality of life for our fellow New Jersey residents on the autism spectrum.”
Here are some of the recommendations generated by the task force:
Transportation and Mobility Focused Recommendations
- Ensure that a portion of all transportation research dollars includes transportation and mobility for people on the autism spectrum. This effort is needed to ensure that when research is being conducted it encompasses the needs of all of New Jersey’s citizens, including citizens with transportation challenges such as those with physical, sensory, intellectual, and developmental disabilities like autism. By supporting the needs of this population in the research, NJ will have a forward-thinking holistic approach for all residents rather than back-tracking. retrofitting, and modifying concepts at a significantly higher cost. This will also ensure that all the citizens have the same rights and access.
- Ensure driver education programs are inclusive. School districts providing drivers education programming need to guarantee that opportunities are available to all students in their district, including those in self-contained classrooms or out of district. Driver education programs must be offered to all students that qualify. All students should be invited to in school driver ed programs to obtain the permit. Then if an individual can pass the written test and obtain a permit, they must be able to receive the same access to driver’s education programs that all of the other students in the district receive.
- Ensure Intelligent Transportation Technologies are developed for all modes. Various technologies are available that can improve a person’s quality of life as it relates to transportation. For vehicle operators, there are numerous apps and Global Position System (GPS) based navigation programs that help drivers determine the best routes that meet the individual’s criteria such as avoiding highways or toll roadways or routes with heavy traffic. This information can be shared as a courtesy to riders. For example, the Go Bus app provides riders of public transit the real-time bus schedule arrival/departure times. Public and/or community para-transit riders rely on the service providers to acquire and utilize existing and emerging technologies that are people-centered to improve service to the customers. Access Link’s EZ-Wallet and on-line trip scheduling is an example of technology helping riders. For pedestrians and transition-age students, Mixed and Augmented Virtual Reality street crossing programs can assist with pedestrian skill acquisition.
Support Services and Secondary/Post-secondary Focused Recommendations
- Encourage a variety of employment-based outcomes. Research the relationship between employment, transportation, and secondary support services for adults with autism to ensure that supports and services are evidenced-based and data-driven. New Jersey is an Employment First state, and the issues of employment-related transportation and secondary support services must be investigated and addressed. Identifying and analyzing the specific barriers and obstacles, to a diverse range of employment opportunities in the State, is the most appropriate avenue for the successful development of sound strategies to address the issues.
- Develop a set of standard practices to support training for college certificate programs and trade schools. Currently, there are many funding inconsistencies for programs and a variety of funding mechanisms. These mechanisms can make accessing post-secondary education and training options difficult for people on the autism spectrum.
- Promote secondary support program expansions so services are offered throughout the State. Currently support programs are available in some colleges and communities. However, they are not offered uniformly throughout the State. Currently, some county colleges do not have specialized support programs. Therefore, residents who need these support programs often travel significant distances outside of their home county to partake in the programs. Meanwhile, others do not attend college due to the higher out-of-county costs and additional travel barriers.