As I look back over the past 25 years of transporting students with disabilities, I am amazed at the changes that have transpired.
In the early '80s, some school districts did not transport "handicapped" students (as they were called) in school buses. Instead, they were taken to school in vans and station wagons, leaving the yellow school bus for the "regular" students.
The students with disabilities would arrive late and be picked up early, and their drop-off and pickup point would be an obscure entrance to the building out of the main flow of traffic. The rationale was that they wouldn't be caught in the hustle and bustle of the hallway during regular bell time arrival and dismissal. This practice shortened their instructional time significantly.
Another common practice was segregating the disabled students in one classroom or one building without interaction with their non-disabled peers.
Public Law 99-372 - the Handicapped Children's Protection Act of 1986 - brought many changes in this area. Students with disabilities would now arrive at the same bell time as their non-disabled peers and enter the building through the same entrance. Also, they were given the opportunity to spend appropriate instructional time in the classroom with students of their age group.
Advancing equipment, training
The necessary equipment required to transport students with disabilities safely has also improved over the years. The vans and station wagons were traded for yellow school buses that were equipped with lifts and tiedown systems for transporting students using wheelchairs.
Wheelchairs have morphed from being collapsible to being equipped with transport options that have been crash tested. School bus specific child passenger safety restraint systems are now available, as are many other products that contribute to a more comfortable ride for our passengers.
Training the bus drivers and attendants is the No. 1 factor in safe transportation for students with disabilities. During the past 25 years, there has been a plethora of material developed to help train our driver trainers, drivers and attendants.
Another change that has occurred over the years is the cooperation and collaboration between the special-education department and the transportation department. This has been a key component in providing for the individualized transportation needs of a student with a disability.
Many changes have occurred in the transportation industry during the past 25 years, and there will continue to be change. Our anticipations and expectations for the future include: new and improved equipment and products developed specifically for the school bus; forward-thinking people in our industry developing new and innovative training programs; exploring options to provide the least-restrictive environment for our students by assessing their abilities before we make adaptations for their disabilities; and, as always, being mindful of our cooperation and collaboration with our special-education departments, keeping in mind that "it's all about the kids."
It has been a privilege and a pleasure to watch and be part of the changes that have come about in our industry. I look forward to what will be in our future with new innovations and new products to help us continue transporting students with disabilities in the safest possible way.