Special Needs Transportation

Tips on proper spec'ing of special-needs buses

Cheryl Wolf
Posted on December 1, 1998

One of the many challenges of transporting students with disabilities is properly spec'ing the school bus, which must be equipped to meet the varying demands of disabled children. To make this challenge more daunting, transportation managers also must be cost-conscious. Tight budgets require them to find the most economical and versatile equipment on the market. Staying in touch with the latest equipment developments is also important because manufacturers are constantly improving their product line. The following advice is intended to ease the process of writing your specifications. Because specifications vary by locality and state, you should consult with governing officials before making any changes.

Making a graceful entrance
To accommodate students with limited mobility, the regular service entrance needs to have three or four steps, each having a rise of no more than 9 inches. In addition, the first step should be no more than 10 inches from the ground (check your local and state requirements). The entrance should also have both left and right grab rails for students who may need additional support as they enter the bus. Passenger seats that have a child safety seat or restraint system attached to them must have a reinforced seat frame that meets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) 208, 209 and 210. Seat belts should not be confused with positioning belts, which do not meet FMVSS 209. For a bus that will have a wheelchair securement system, it is recommended that a 5/8-inch marine plywood sub floor be added for stability. When designing your floor plan, consider the utilization of the bus. We have found that flat floors and recessed tracking promote variable uses of the equipment. In a bus equipped with air-ride suspension, the wheelchair positions may be placed at the back of the bus, allowing the use of 39-inch seats in the forward area and 30-inch seats in the rear. Allowing 52 inches for each wheelchair position provides working room around the chair for drivers and aides. All four-point tiedown systems and three-point personal securement systems must meet FMVSS 209. Above the window, tracking for the upper torso restraint helps with adjusting the placement of the shoulder strap when the height of the wheelchair makes this adjustment difficult. Check with the securement system manufacturer for other devices that adjust the shoulder strap. Storage devices for securement straps are now available. This keeps them cleaner and prevents wear. Any storage device needs to meet the flammability standards established in FMVSS 302. Make sure you are provided with all available training materials to ensure the proper use and maintenance of the wheelchair securement and occupant restraint system.

Work with manufacturers
Before writing specifications for a wheelchair lift, you should consult with the manufacturers or study their literature. When you find a lift that suits your needs, use their language in writing your specifications and specify the manufacturer by name. Always keep in mind that the lift you specify must meet all local, state and federal standards. Tinted windows and a white roof are two other options to consider. Each of these will lower the interior temperature. With the increasing numbers of special-needs students involved in the extended-year programs, this becomes an added consideration, not only for comfort but also for medical conditions that require a cooler environment.

Author Cheryl Wolf is special-needs transportation coordinator for Greater Lafayette Area Special Services and Lafayette School Corp. in Indiana.

Related Topics: school bus specs

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