The travel training program at YAI Network in Astoria helps disabled adults ride public transportation on their own.
Since the program started two years ago, riders are taught how to get from home to YAI via bus and train, and beginning this fall a few participants were guided through going straight from home to their volunteer or job locations, cutting hours from their commute and giving them newly found independence. The individuals’ challenges range from hearing impairment to developmental disabilities and cerebral palsy.
Mike B.’s travel time from his home in Belle Harbor to Astoria was two and a half hours on Access-a-Ride, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s bus system for the disabled. His commute was halved a year ago after he graduated from the travel program. He now rides the Q 22 to the Q 53 to the N or R train on his own.
He uses the extra time to help out with the fitness program and fill up water tanks at YAI. Mike also meets his girlfriend for breakfast before they both attend day programs.
“I can be more independent,” Mike, 37, said. “It’s much faster, much quicker.”
Alex, 24, an LIC High School graduate, is just starting the program. He lives less than 30 minutes away from Astoria in Elmhurst and said he likes that he can sleep in instead of ride Access-a-Ride for hours.
“It’s a huge quality-of-life change,” said Stephanie Rozanski, supervisor of the program.
Skipping the MTA service not only gives the riders more flexibility with quicker routes, but a yearly bus pass saves several thousands of dollars less on transportation per person, YAI spokeswoman Lynn Berman said.
The training, which averages about 12 days, starts with Lisa Dawn-Pilgrim, the travel trainer with YAI Network, scoping out a student’s route.
“We look for curb cutouts and how long traffic signals blink,” Rozanski said.
After the best route is picked, the individuals are given an identification card that lists their route home. The participants are taught to wait until the green walk sign flashes on — not following the lead of many New Yorkers — and to listen for conductor announcements.
Part of the training includes getting the students lost a few times as well. In those situations the disabled adults are taught to ask the conductor or a police officer for help, not a stranger.
“You don’t know who is safe or not,” Rozanski said. “And not everyone gives the right directions,” Dawn-Pilgrim added.
“I never get lost,” Mike B. said with a smile.
“I watch for landmarks,” Alex said.
The last stage of the training is a mock solo-trip. Dawn-Pilgrim says she has a last-minute appointment and leaves the students to get home by themselves, but unbeknownst to the travelers, a YAI employee shadows them.
Two students have not passed the program, and were asked to work on certain skills in their YAI groups, but 19 have made it through the test and now travel on their own.
“These guys want this more than anything,” Rozanski said. “I can’t imagine never being alone, and now they can access their city and be a part of the community.”