CINCINNATI — During the NAPT Summit here in October, attendees learned about the preliminary results of recent research conducted by officials at the universities of Michigan, Pittsburgh and Louisville for the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Wheelchair Transportation Safety.
The project is funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, and it is being conducted to obtain accurate and objective information on the real-world experience of transporting wheelchair-seated students in school buses.
The study has focused on key issues related to driver training, the prevalence of WC19-compliant wheelchairs and ease of using wheelchair tiedown and occupant restraint systems (WTORS) to improve safety.
Mary Ellen Buning, Ph.D., OTR/L, ATP, of the University of Louisville in Kentucky, told conferees that the ultimate goal of the study is to “improve the safety of people who use wheelchairs and remain seated while using wheelchairs in vehicles.”
In the initial stages of the project, researchers contacted the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services’ executive committee and worked with members to create a survey for the states’ pupil transportation directors to complete.
Among the respondents, Buning said that the majority had policies and procedures in their state for lift and ramp use, while almost the same percentage had policies on WTORS use. Many were aware of the specifications for a WC19-compliant wheelchair.
Researchers then sent out a survey to obtain information from current school bus drivers and attendants on their practices while transporting wheelchair-bound students.
Buning said that her and other researchers’ first impressions based on the results of this survey are that bus drivers and attendants care about their students and they are trying to do a good job in securing and transporting them, but they don’t have adequate training or advice based on evidence and best practices.
She also said that many respondents indicated that they want more training on how to handle exceptions to standard training procedures.
In terms of training, Buning told attendees that nearly all respondents reported that they have received instruction on how to secure a wheelchair in a school bus, but a small percentage reported that they have never received training.
Of the people who said they have received training, many are trained annually, but some people reported that they were only trained at the time that they were hired, and many were hired more than four years ago.
Respondents were also asked about such topics as wheelchair securement procedures, lap-shoulder restraints, types of wheelchairs they encounter while transporting special-needs students, wheelchair lift training and operation, and injuries sustained on the job that were related to transporting students in wheelchairs.
Buning said that in doing research on wheelchair securement, most respondents indicated that they use all four securement straps to anchor the wheelchair to the bus floor. However, some respondents said they have difficulty for a variety of reasons, including not having enough space to maneuver around the wheelchair, the fact that it is difficult to find the attachment points on the wheelchair or that they have difficulty tightening or seeing the straps once the wheelchair is in place.
Nearly all respondents said that they use lap-shoulder restraints to secure a student in his or her wheelchair.
To learn more about the RERC study on wheelchair transportation safety, go to www.rercwts.org. The center is also on Facebook here.