Release Date: October 13, 2017
For many people who have a disability, taking public transportation is a necessity. But it can also be a nightmare.
The barriers abound. It can be extremely difficult to get up and down the stairs on the bus. Riders who use a wheelchair often feel undue attention drawn upon them as passengers sit and wait impatiently while the bus operator secures the wheelchair in place.
But a research partnership between the University at Buffalo and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) is working to dramatically improve the public transit experience for the region’s many riders who have some type of disability.
They’re taking what they’ve learned through lab simulations on the South Campus and applying the findings to the NFTA’s fleet of buses. Their results also have helped inform national standards for accessible public transportation.
The work being done by the NFTA and UB’s Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDeA Center) is critical for public transit users like Andrew Marcum, program director for the Center for Self Advocacy, a Buffalo-based nonprofit organization that helps individuals with developmental disabilities lead independent, productive lives.
The center offers a travel training program that teaches anyone who has a disability how to use the region’s public transportation system.
“Access to reliable, accessible public transit is essential for people with disabilities to be able to live independent, full lives in the community,” says Marcum.
In recent years, IDeA Center studies have helped inform national guidelines for accessible public transportation, including a recent ruling by the U.S. Access Board to change the ramp slope to make it easier for passengers who use a wheeled mobility device and others to board buses. Researchers there also have published several papers in peer-reviewed journals.
“It’s our hope that our research findings will guide standards that will make buses more accessible to all,” says Victor Paquet, professor of industrial and systems engineering in UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
“We want our findings to be communicated not only in the scientific literature, but more importantly, to the people and transportation agencies that can greatly benefit from this information,” adds Paquet, one of numerous researchers from a range of fields at UB who collaborate with the IDeA Center, which is housed in the School of Architecture and Planning.
Other collaborators include James Lenker, associate professor of rehabilitation science in the School of Public Health and Health Professions, who has also worked on the bus studies.
The IDeA Center collaborated with community members who use a variety of wheeled mobility devices to conduct usability testing on three different types of wheelchair securement systems for buses.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations require transit authorities to have two wheelchair securement spaces.
While there are now several other types of securement systems available, the traditional system has been a four-point securement: two hooks for the front of the wheelchair and two for the rear, plus a lap or shoulder belt, all of which have to be attached by the bus driver.
But, says Brittany Perez, an occupational therapist and research associate in the IDeA Center who has led the bus studies, “There are a lot of challenges with this securement system. It’s time-consuming, the wheelchair user often feels that there is unwanted attention drawn to them, and there’s time pressure for the bus driver who is hurrying to stay on schedule.”
“As a result, passenger compliance with using wheelchair securement systems is extremely low,” adds Paquet. “The IDeA Center has been working to find creative ways to ensure that wheelchair users are safe, and that they are more likely to use the securement technologies available on the bus because they’re not as time-consuming or intrusive.”
Researchers began by examining the traditional, manual, four-point securement system that requires the bus driver’s assistance and compared that to two securement system alternatives:
Before shifting focus toward wheelchair securement, the IDeA Center conducted a study examining the slope of a newer bus-ramp technology. The ramp unfolds after the bus door opens and allows passengers to board the vehicle, whether they are in a wheeled mobility device, use a cane or walker, or are a parent pushing a stroller.
Their study, like others, found that a 1 to 6 ramp — meaning a ratio of 1 inch in vertical rise to 6 inches of horizontal run — is safer and easier to use than the previous standard slope of 1 to 4 in transit vehicles.
The IDeA Center also reported that ramps are better than lifts. “The ramp allows riders to enter and exit the bus independently, whereas the use of a lift requires the full assistance of the bus driver,” Perez says. “The ramp can benefit all kinds of passengers.”
Last January, the U.S. Access Board issued a final ruling making the 1 to 6 ramp the maximum slope standard for transit vehicles when the ramp is deployed to the street level.
Jeffrey Sweet, an NFTA equipment engineer who has more than three decades of experience in public transportation, worked with researchers to develop best-in-class equipment for those with special needs.
“We’ve adopted the 1 to 6 ramp, and that’s just one of a number of improvements we have developed,” says Sweet, who is continuously looking at ways to meet and exceed regulations and requirements.
The IDeA Center’s studies on the wheelchair securement and ramp access were both funded through the Administration for Community Living’s Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers (RERC) program.
Prior to the ramp and wheelchair securement studies, the IDeA Center, again through RERC funding, studied the interior design of the NFTA’s 40-foot buses. The research led to improvements in the turn space wheelchair users have when boarding the bus, as well as the positioning of the fare-collection box to make to make it more user friendly.
The IDeA Center and NFTA began their partnership almost 10 years ago. The benefits are mutual. IDeA Center researchers get to take what they learned in the simulation lab and apply it to the real world using NFTA buses and riders who rely on accessible public transportation.
“One of the biggest benefits we have is being able to work with the NFTA and learn about the real-world challenges passengers with disabilities face when taking public transportation,” Perez says.
The IDeA Center has conducted some of its research in its former lab in an annex building on the South Campus, which houses a full scale, low-floor bus simulator that allows researchers to work in poor weather conditions or when an NFTA bus is not available. But the NFTA has also brought some of its 40-foot buses and its smaller Paratransit Access Line vehicles to campus.
“We could stay on campus in our simulator and be limited to what we learn in the lab, but having that open dialogue with the NFTA has been helpful in designing and implementing our research studies. Some of the conversations they’ve had around accessibility are very progressive for a transit authority their size,” Perez says.
Meanwhile, the NFTA is supplied with data from research studies, which the authority can use to inform changes that improve service for all NFTA users. In 2016, the NFTA’s system-wide Metro Bus and Rail services provided a total of 28.1 million rides.
“The IDeA Center really provided us with a tremendous amount of insight and valuable information,” says Sweet. “It helped us exceed regulations and improve our service, based on actual data.”
Metro has a fully accessible bus and rail system. But for passengers who can’t use regular Metro Bus or Metro Rail service due to a disability, the NFTA provides curb-to-curb transportation through its Paratransit Access Line.
“We know from experience that when people have negative experiences using public transportation, they tend not to use it,” says Marcum of the Center for Self Advocacy. “That’s why the research the IDeA Center is doing, and the investments the NFTA is making, are so important. It means better access to the community for people with disabilities.”
Danise C. Wilson, MPH '14
has been elected chair of SUNY Erie Community College's Board of Trustees through 2022. She is executive director of the Erie Niagara Area Health Education Center. In a statement released by SUNY Erie, Wilson said she was honored to accept the board chairperson's role at the community college. "I am incredibly grateful to outgoing Chairman Lenihan for his stewardship on behalf of our students and I look forward to working with the entire Board and the College’s Administration as we continue to expand our services to provide a positive impact on current and future students," Wilson said.
Catherine Callahan, PhD '16
(epidemiology), recently published a co-first author article in the Journal of National Cancer Institute titled “Serum concentrations of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances and risk of renal cell carcinoma.” Co-authored with Joseph J. Shearer, the article covers highly exposed individuals that have an association with PFOA and kidney cancer. Callahan is a molecular epidemiologist who focuses on environmental and occupational exposures. She is currently doing research based on etiologic studies of kidney cancer and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. She worked at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) as a postdoctoral fellow for a little over two years after her graduation.
Summer Davis, MS '20
(occupational therapy), was selected by the Alpha Eta Society (the national honor society for allied health professionals) to receive the Exceptional Professional Service Award. She was recognized at Alpha Eta’s annual meeting in October 2020. The award is given to students who have an exceptional record of professional service and demonstrate this within and beyond their study program. Awarded students demonstrate this capability beyond their institution's confines while maintaining a leadership position in professional societies. Davis was president of UB’s Phi Theta Epsilon-Tau chapter of the National Occupational Therapy Honor Society. She held the position while managing different job experiences in her field, along with volunteer hours and licensing/certification classes.
Tyler Farnell, MS '20
(athletic training), is working as an injury prevention specialist through ProActive Works at four quarries owned by Tilcon. His duties include promoting wellness, performing ergonomic observations, and completing documentation with the goal of providing early intervention that can prevent minor injuries from getting worse, become work-related, or result in a loss of time from work. During Farnell’s time at UB, he furthered his experience by shadowing an athletic trainer for the UB Men's Hockey team, maintaining a number of licenses and certifications that fit his career path.
Marcelo Araujo, PhD '03
recently published a report in "The Journal of the American Dental Association" titled "Estimating COVID-19 prevalence and infection control practices among US dentists." The report finds the COVID-19 rate among dentists is less than one percent, although they were assumed to be at high risk. Ninety-nine percent of dentists are using enhanced infection control procedures. The research shows that dentists’ strategies of using heightened infection control and increased attention to patient and dental-team safety, works. Araujo was appointed chief executive officer for the American Dental Association Science and Research Institute in 2019. He leads a team helping advance dental research and impact dentists and patients' lives.
Dana Grady (Luther), MS '11
(occupational therapy), an occupational therapist at St. Peter's Hospital, recently implemented a new post-cardiac surgery program called "Keep Your Move in the Tube, developed by Baylor University. After completing research to compare the old strict sternal precautions to this new program to determine efficacy and safety, cardiac surgeons decided to move forward with this new, less restrictive post sternotomy program for all heart surgery patients. She also published an article, "The Impact of a Less Restrictive Poststernotomy Activity Protocol Compared With Standard Sternal Precautions in Patients Following Cardiac Surgery," which furthered the study of the program of the program.
Jane Moore, BS '93
(occupational therapy), created a comprehensive feeding program in collaboration with GI, nutritionists, behavior therapists and occupational therapists that specialize in feeding. Moore also created and implemented a training program for OTs who want to specialize in feeding, which assists them in obtaining their advanced license in California. The feeding program offers one-on-one intervention and feeding groups, working with infants and children with various feeding delays, including g-tube, trach, reflux, oral motor, and sensory issues. Moore has been a clinical director and feeding program supervisor for over five years, assessing, evaluating and providing OT therapy intervention for children with various diagnoses.