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August 26, 2010  |   Comments (2)   |   Post a comment

Involving Physical Therapists in Pupil Transportation

Physical and occupational therapists are a great asset to an operation. Help them to see the critical role they play in assisting with the transport of special-needs students by soliciting their expertise on body mechanics, disabilities and mobility devices. Ensure that they participate in evacuation training and drills.

by Jean Zimmerman

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Author Jean Zimmerman (top left) says physical therapists can teach bus drivers about proper body mechanics to help reduce injury while they are transporting special-needs students.

Author Jean Zimmerman (top left) says physical therapists can teach bus drivers about proper body mechanics to help reduce injury while they are transporting special-needs students.

Where did summer vacation go? Some of you may have worked due to a summer school program. Others may have had the luxury of taking the entire summer off.

Whatever your summer entailed, the reality is that a new school year is upon us and with that comes another year of transporting students.

When I have given presentations throughout the U.S., a question that often arises is: How do I get the physical therapists (PTs) and occupational therapists (OTs) in my school system involved in pupil transportation?

One of the first things transportation professionals need to understand is that as PTs and OTs, we are taught little to nothing about school bus transportation. The college curriculum for therapists addresses so many medical areas that working in school systems and school bus transportation are barely addressed. With this in mind, the first step in getting therapists involved is to help them realize how valuable they can be to transportation.

Request training on body mechanics
"I have hurt my back." This is one statement that transportation supervisors hate to hear. Worker's compensation complaints not only cost money in a time when budgets are dwindling, they can also cause problems in the transportation work force.

Therapists are taught during their professional training how our bodies move most effectively and efficiently. We learn the mechanics of bones and joints and how muscles cause the various movements in our bodies that we can take for granted. If you disrupt correct body mechanics, you can cause long-term pain that can make it difficult to perform your job.

To get therapists involved in pupil transportation, ask them to teach your employees about body mechanics. Because physical and occupational therapists are trained on this topic, many would be comfortable speaking about it.

Moreover, before this in-service training takes place, the supervisor should invite the therapist to the transportation facility to observe a school bus driver and bus attendant's daily tasks in serving students with special needs. This way, the therapist will become more aware of and knowledgeable about the school bus environment.

For instance, transferring a student from a wheelchair to a school bus seat involves the same basic principles of transfer, but it will have to be modified slightly due to the logistics of a school bus.

In addition, request a dialogue between the therapist and transporters about the height of the school bus steps, how to maneuver down the bus aisle and how to perform proper body mechanics in a tight space.

Here, Zimmerman demonstrates how to lock hands to help support a student’s head when carrying him or her out of the bus.

Go to therapists for information on disabilities
Do your bus drivers and attendants say, "I don't know anything about the special-needs students on my bus. I don't understand why they move the way they do," and ask where they can find more information?

PTs and OTs have a wealth of knowledge about different disabilities. For example, therapists know that cerebral palsy means having difficulty with movements, spasticity and, possibly, being unable to walk. The therapists understand the progression of a disease, and they can explain to a bus staff why a student's condition appears to be getting worse.

Since therapists understand students' disabilities, they can assist in determining what type of support is needed when the students sit on bus seats. When they are part of the transportation team, they will also teach correct loading procedures, both on the stairs and on the wheelchair lift.

Solicit their expertise on mobility devices
Another question that often comes from transportation officials is: Why are there so many different kinds of mobility devices?

Each student is an individual and, thus, he or she may require being transported in equipment or using equipment that is customized to meet his or her needs. Transportation staff should seek out the PTs or OTs who work with students who have mobility devices to learn more about them.

The therapists have studied many kinds of mobility devices. The therapists can teach you how to tilt the mobility device, how to move the anti-tipper bars, where the wheel locks are located, etc. They will also show you how to disengage the gears of a motorized mobility device and put it into the manual mode.

Furthermore, therapists will help you understand which devices students may remain seated in during transport to and from school, and they can assist in determining the best location to tie down the wheelchair if there are no transit options.

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Brianna    |    Nov 22, 2010 01:43 PM

When I saw the picture of Jean Zimmerman on the bus training drivers on evacuating children, especially special needs children, I was so happy. Jean came to Nevada last year and conducted the same training. Not only was it eye opening, but lots and lots of problems were discovered with regards to special needs kids. You nailed it on the head as far as school bus drivers needs to know proper body mechanics so they don't hurt themselves. Awesome article! Diana Hollander Program Officer, Pupil Transportation Nevada Department of Education

Diana Hollander    |    Oct 05, 2010 03:15 PM

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