Independent Transportation Can Lead to More Opportunity for People with Disabilities

A study funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR).

For people with disabilities, transportation can be a major challenge. People may be unable to drive a car, ride a bike, or travel on foot due to a disability. If transportation is not available, accessible, and affordable, people with disabilities may not be able to fully participate in daily activities. For example, people may have trouble getting to work, running errands, going to the doctor, or socializing without adequate transportation.

In a recent NIDILRR-funded study, researchers at the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Disability in Rural Communities (RTC: Rural) in collaboration with the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Community Living compared how often people with and without disabilities use transportation and the types of transportation they use. They also looked at how people with and without disabilities spend their time and whether people who use transportation spend their time differently from those who do not.

The researchers analyzed data from the American Time Use Survey, a nationwide survey of about 32,000 adults aged 18-65. In the survey, respondents were interviewed on a random day and asked about their activities on the previous day. Specifically, the respondents were asked if they left their home at least once during that day, and if they did, what mode of transportation they used. Transportation could be independent such as driving, riding the bus, walking, or biking; or dependent, such as riding as a passenger in a car or a scheduled ride service.  Respondents were also asked how much time they spent doing various activities during the day, such as working, socializing, sleeping, and relaxation and leisure activities.

About 1,100 survey respondents reported a mobility disability with difficulty walking or climbing stairs. Of these, 100 respondents also reported a self-care disability, with difficulty dressing or bathing in addition to the mobility disability. The researchers found that:

  • Respondents with disabilities were less likely than respondents without disabilities to use independent forms of transportation, and slightly more likely to be dependent on someone else for transportation.
  • Respondents with disabilities were more likely to stay home than those without disabilities. While 33% of respondents with mobility disabilities and 46% of those with mobility and self-care disabilities stayed home on the day before they were interviewed, only 10% of those without disabilities stayed home.
  • Respondents with disabilities spent less of their time working. Respondents with mobility disabilities spent 5% of their day, on average, doing paid work, and respondents with mobility and self-care disabilities spent 2% of their day on paid work, compared with 17% for respondents without disabilities. 
  • Respondents with disabilities spent more of their time watching television. Respondents with mobility disabilities spent 19% of their day, on average, watching television, and those with mobility and self-care disabilities spent 21% of their day watching television, compared with 10% for those without disabilities. In addition, 40% of respondents with disabilities spent six or more hours a day watching television.

The researchers found a connection between transportation use and time spent working and watching television. Respondents who used independent forms of transportation spent more time working and less time watching television than respondents who stayed home throughout the day or who rode in another person’s car. This was true for both people with and without disabilities. Further, lack of independent transportation had a significantly larger effect on time use than presence of impairment. According to the authors, this suggests that factors like the availability of transportation can have a meaningful impact on people’s participation in their communities. However, even after accounting for transportation use, people with disabilities spent less time working and more time watching television than those without disabilities. Therefore, the authors noted that transportation is likely not the only factor affecting time use for people with disabilities.

According to the authors, these findings highlight the importance of accessible independent transportation, including public transit options. Barriers like lack of transportation can have a significant impact on how well people with disabilities can participate in daily activities. For example, having available public transportation as well as financial assistance programs such as ride voucher programs could make transportation more accessible and affordable to people with disabilities, and could improve their independence and ability to participate.

The authors pointed out that, although they found a connection between transportation use and time use, they couldn’t say which one had an impact on the other: Do people with disabilities spend less time working because they don’t have access to transportation, or do they not use transportation because they may not be employed? Future research could focus on this connection to understand how transportation access may impact employment for people with disabilities. This study examined independent and dependent transportation in general, including public transportation. Future research may focus on public transportation options and how they impact time use for people with disabilities.

To Learn More

The Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Disability in Rural Communities studies the impact of rural environments on participation and engagement of individuals with disabilities. This included a study of the impact of transportation vouchers on access and independence:

The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Accessible Public Transportation (RERC APT) partnered with Easter Seals Project ACTION to develop a factsheet on universal design and accessible public transit systems:

The National Aging and Disability Transportation Center offers training, webinars, publications, and technical assistance on increasing transportation options to increase independence and community participation of people with disabilities:

The American Time Use Survey (ATUS) measures the amount of time people spend doing various activities, such as paid work, childcare, volunteering, and socializing:

To Learn More About this Study

A. Myers and C. Ravesloot. (2016) Navigating time and space: how Americans with disabilities use time and transportation . Community Development, 47(1), 75-90. This article is available from the NARIC collection under Accession Number J73547.

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