Over the last few years, society has begun to understand that with the proper support, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) can lead happy, fulfilling lives. One obstacle to that fulfillment continues to be a lack of accessible transportation.
Having IDD presents its own challenges, including trying to access a system of transportation that assumes a certain baseline of cognitive operation that not every individual has. For those who don’t fit within the idea of that “baseline,” interacting with some transportation options can raise anxiety when it comes to getting to and from a destination of choice. That anxiety can cause some people with IDD to miss social events and medical appointments entirely. Missing doctor’s appointments can lead to expedited progression of chronic illnesses and elimination of opportunities to proactively treat emerging conditions, even those as simple as high blood pressure.
People with transportation challenges and no access to reliable transportation services end up waiting at one place for extended periods for their ride to arrive. Further, individuals with IDD may not have the functional abilities to manage available resources to call a taxi or a friend. Even on the best of days, transportation services can be limited in this case without access to more customized options like non-emergency medical transportation.
Cognitively, physically, and emotionally the need for consistent access to reliable transportation is essential to improve the health of people with IDD. Unfortunately, the negative impact on their health is just one of the many aspects of having limited and unreliable transportation to and from medical appointments. Those improvements also must address other barriers for individuals with IDD, including negative behaviors and negative interactions with drivers.
Education is one solution. Negative behaviors decrease by employing non-restrictive methods of interacting and transporting IDD clients. A great example comes from a study done by Michigan State University involving four IDD clients taught to use Google Maps in conjunction with public transportation to get to and from work.  It was a solution that proved both effective and non-stigmatizing for the participants. It was something available and viewable on a smartphone, so it was always on hand and had them exhibit behavior very common in anyone trying to get from point A to point B.
Applying the same kinds of considerations, a similar approach can be employed in non-emergency medical transportation. Education in this context can include teaching IDD clients to use a client portal for a provider’s chosen transportation scheduling software on their smartphone. Other options include providing them a smartphone-viewable information sheet that explains who to contact within an NEMT provider’s structure to get them where they need to go. There’s great potential in provider-led education for their IDD clients.
Better access to NEMT solutions and better education in how to use them can also help with reducing the number of negative interactions those with IDD have with drivers. Drivers who are employed with NEMT service providers will inherently have more experience with individuals with IDD. They will also likely have received training specific to the unique needs of those with IDD. While public transport drivers may receive some degree of “sensitivity training,” they won’t have the level of training that NEMT drivers will.
Easily-accessible NEMT solutions decrease missed appointments and help people with IDD access reliable transportation, but by extrapolating on the results of the Michigan State study, we can see a possibility that provider-led education could be a vital way of increasing the reliability and accessibility of NEMT solutions. The overall stress of managing transportation services rises when there’s no consistency, and at the end of the day, reducing stress and improving people’s experiences is the goal.