How COVID-19 Has Made Transportation Issues Even More Challenging for People with Vision Loss
This is the first of two blogs reporting the results of a national survey conducted by the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) to shine a light on ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted people with vision loss. Part 1 focuses on challenges. Part 2 will identify issues and solutions. Thank you to AFB guest blogger Neva Fairchild, National Aging and Vision Loss Specialist, and to Pris Rogers, Special Advisor on Aging and Vision Loss and L. Penny Rosenblum, Director of Research.
This pandemic has brought to the forefront many concerns that people who are blind or have low vision have always encountered related to transportation. Paratransit and rideshare services have made a huge impact on accessibility, at least in urban areas. However, both fears—on the part of the public, transit providers, and riders alike—and lack of viable solutions have combined to create even more obstacles to sustainable transportation options.
In an effort to better understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people who are blind or visually impaired, the American Foundation for the Blind, along with 14 other vision-related U.S. organizations and companies, created and distributed the “Flatten Inaccessibility” survey. Questions about key aspects of life that affect the independence and health of individuals with vision loss were divided into two major sections that everyone was asked to complete: demographic and technology. Eight optional sections were included in the survey, one of which focused on access to, and concerns about, transportation during the Coronavirus pandemic.
The survey was completed by 1,921 individuals. Of these, 1,162 chose to answer questions related to transportation, more than any other optional section.
Of the 1,162 respondents who answered transportation questions:
- 1,152 individuals provided their age:
- 651 were under age 55;
- 245 were 55 to 64 years;
- 221 were 65 to 74 years; and
- 35 were 75 years or older.
- A total of 542 of those with transportation concerns also reported having a secondary disability. The three most common were diabetes, deaf or serious difficulty hearing, or a significant psychiatric disorder.
- Additionally, 331 of the 1,162 participants concerned about transportation reported they also had a concern that their secondary disability made them more vulnerable to COVID-19.
A limitation of this survey is that it was only available online; and of the participants who answered questions about transportation, only 74 required assistance to complete the survey. Therefore, the survey sample is primarily a group of participants who were well versed in the use of technology, which may not be representative of people who are blind or visually impaired in general.
Transportation Survey Components
Participants were provided a list of ten COVID-19 related concern statements (specified below) and asked to rate each concern on a scale from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (5).
- I do not feel safe taking public transit (e.g., bus, subways).
- I do not feel safe taking taxis.
- I am concerned that because I do not drive, I will not be able to get myself or a family member to a hospital or healthcare facility if they have severe COVID-19 symptoms.
- I am concerned that my community has restricted or will soon restrict public transit, paratransit, taxis, and/or rideshare services such as Uber or Lyft.
- I do not feel safe taking paratransit.
- I do not feel safe using rideshare services such as Uber or Lyft.
- I am concerned that because I do not drive, I will have difficulty getting groceries or other key essentials.
- I am concerned that my community has stopped public transit, paratransit, taxis, and/or rideshare services such as Uber or Lyft.
- I am concerned that when I use public transportation I am being required to enter and/or exit at the rear of the bus.
- I am concerned that due to my reduced work hours, being laid off, or the business I worked for closing, I can no longer afford to use the transportation methods I have used in the past.
Top Participant Concerns
- Level of Safety. Four of the concern statements focused on the level of safety a participant felt using the following types of transportation: public transit (fixed route buses, trains, subways), taxis, paratransit, and rideshare services (Lyft, Uber). For each of these, the average was higher than 4 on the 5-point scale, meaning that participants had extreme concerns about safely using these forms of transportation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the data indicates that participants felt slightly safer using rideshare services than the other options, comments were mixed. Some felt that rideshare services are safer, while other participants thought paratransit is safer, due to government requirements for sanitation and limits to ridership.
- Transportation Options. Participants also expressed anxieties about reduction of transportation options in their community due to COVID-19, including fewer bus routes being served, fewer paratransit rides available, and fewer rideshare drivers willing to drive.
The angst felt by one participant is reflective of the sentiments of most respondents:
“My concern around transportation is that the longer this continues and/or if I have a really urgent need, we will have to pick the least bad choice for getting anywhere in the absence of a private vehicle.”
- Getting to Testing Sites. Another concern that participants scored higher than 4 on the 5-point scale related to the ability to get to a testing site or healthcare facility.
A participant shared:
“If I wanted to get tested, I would not be able to do so because many of the test sites are set up as drive-through locations. Not being able to drive, I don’t think paratransit would take me to be tested, nor would they wait for me. In addition, I would not be able to use a driving service such as Uber or Lyft because they would not want to drive someone who possibly has the virus and could contaminate them.”
“If I, or a family member, needed to be tested or hospitalized, I think my only alternative would be to go by ambulance, as no Uber or Lyft driver would be willing.”
- Maintaining Safety and Independence. Participants also expressed high levels of distress about how to maintain safety and independence during travel and while at their destination. This quote from a participant illustrates the stress of travel during COVID-19:
“My local transit agency currently has a policy that drivers are not to physically assist passengers, except to secure mobility devices. My understanding of this policy is that it would prevent drivers from providing door-to-door assistance and sighted guide… getting to and from the vehicle… I hate the idea of a driver potentially putting themselves at risk to assist me, but that doesn’t take away the reality that I still need assistance to and from paratransit vehicles.”
For additional information on transportation and vision loss:
Neva Fairchild, National Aging and Vision Loss Specialist, https://www.afb.org/about-afb/leadership-and-staff/experts/neva-fairchild
Pris Rogers, Special Advisor on Aging and Vision Loss https://www.afb.org/about-afb/leadership-and-staff/experts/pris-rogers-experts
L. Penny Rosenblum, Director of Research https://www.afb.org/about-afb/leadership-and-staff/experts/l-penny-rosenblum