A key component of the Project SEARCH internship model is to prepare individuals with disabilities to get to and from work independently. As the Employment Services partner for four Project SEARCH sites, Didlake incorporates travel training into lessons each fall, at the start of the school year and internship program. At the UVA Prince William Medical Center, Didlake works with community partner OmniRide to offer a truly hands-on learning experience.
OmniRide, a local public bus system in Prince William County, brings a bus to the hospital for the students to practice boarding the bus, notifying the driver when ready to disembark, paying fares, swiping bus passes, getting wheelchairs and bikes on and off the bus, understanding a bus map and reading a bus schedule. Public Relations Specialist Alyssa Ludwiczak also presents on types of public transportation and the positive impact on the environment by reducing single occupancy vehicles on the road.
Travel training covers all the ways to select the best bus route – a physical map and schedule; maps and schedules posted on the website; an interactive online tool; an app; and a customer service phone line. OmniRide teaches participants how to add money to rechargeable SmarTrip cards. OmniRide’s local and Metro Express routes are free through June 2023. The commuter buses only accept SmarTrip cards (no cash). Students learn how to be courteous to other passengers; by using headphones and only making quick phone calls, for example.
“Even though Project SEARCH is a school-based program, the school bus does not take people to the hospital; Project SEARCH is really about preparing people to get to work independently. We stress the importance of getting to work on time and build confidence in the students – confidence from knowing they can do it by themselves. The things students learn has been huge for quality of life. An individual who uses a wheelchair had no idea he would be able to ride a bus. By the end of it, he was telling us he was going to the mall to hang out. He had no idea he could navigate his community independently,” said Stacy Chapman, Director of Employment Services, Didlake.
OmniRide also offers travel training to other community organizations, senior centers and schools. Ludwiczak has given presentations in elementary and middle schools, incorporating grade-appropriate learning standards, such as calculating the commute cost factoring in gas.
OmniRide also offers a paratransit service, OmniRide Access, for people with disabilities. Vans operate within 3/4 mile of the OmniRide local bus routes that serve Manassas and Manassas Park and operates Monday through Friday from 5:25 a.m. to 8:15 p.m. Individuals who are unable to ride a fixed-route bus because of disabilities or health issues may apply to use OmniRide Access. Once eligibility is confirmed, paratransit riders will receive an OmniRide Access ID card. Rides must be scheduled from one to 14 days in advance. One-way fare is $3.10; trained personal care attendants may ride for free with an eligible passenger.
To request a training for your organization, email [email protected] or call 724-614-8962.