Ask the Expert – Mary Lombardo, CCBDD Travel Training Program

Driving is a huge factor of every-day life: we drive to shop, to get to work or school, to visit loved ones, and to access healthcare, among many other things. Now imagine if you were unable to rely on this mode of transportation. This is the reality for many individuals with autism transitioning into adulthood who are uninterested or unable to drive.

Learning to use other methods of transportation independently is a valuable skill for these individuals and can completely change the way in which they engage in and interact with their surrounding community (especially in a city like Cleveland, where public transportation is affordable).

The Cuyahoga County Board of Development Disabilities’ (CCBDD) Travel Training Program is available for individuals and families eligible for CCBDD services who are looking to develop the skills needed to safely navigate their community. The program provides on-foot, bus, UBER/Lyft and bike training, incorporating an initial assessment of every individual’s skills to see how to proceed with their individualized program.

“Within this thorough assessment, we are evaluating everything from how far an individual can walk without fatigue to number and landmark recognition, to phone skills, pedestrian safety, and stranger awareness,” said Community Travel Program Supervisor Mary Lombardo. “We also evaluate their street-crossing skills, knowledge of emergency procedures, and much more.”

Once the results and goals of the individual are assessed, a personalized plan is developed to fit their goals and the appropriate method of transportation. With over 40 years of service to the people of Cleveland, this program provides all training on a one-on-one basis, and takes place until the individual is able to travel independently.

“For those individuals not quite ready for bus travel, we can instruct them on how to safely navigate their community on foot, “said Lombardo. “We also offer bike safety assessment. If an individual has their own bike (and knows how to ride it), we can instruct them on safety procedures. We will also demonstrate how to utilize the bike rack on RTA buses, so individuals can extend their trips.”

According to Lombardo, CCBDD is also hoping to begin offering assistance to individuals who desire to obtain a temporary learner’s permit. They can assist with taking the written portion of the test and can refer individuals to agencies who may be able to help with on-the-road training.

Lombardo has dedicated much of her career to helping individuals with special needs and has been able to witness hundreds of individuals learn how to engage in the larger Cleveland community.

“I enjoy seeing the independence and confidence that individuals develop as they learn to navigate their communities. Independence creates opportunities and promotes inclusion in the community,” said Lombardo. “Introducing travel training to school systems, parents, and other agencies gives me great pleasure – transportation is always a barrier, and by sharing information we show that there are options.”

Having been with CCBDD for 34 years, Lombardo has dedicated much of her career to helping individuals with special needs and has been able to witness hundreds of individuals learn how to engage in the larger Cleveland community. Recently, she contributed to the development of new community safety videos for individuals to use when interacting with new people or navigating their community, an additional resource available to the public thanks to the CCBDD.

“When creating the videos, we hoped to include scenarios that an individual would likely encounter,” Lombardo stated. “Some topics include dealing with strangers asking for money, giving rides to strangers, and what to do if you feel you are being followed.”

When asked how she hopes to see the city continue to strive for more accessibility, Lombardo described how there are still areas of the county that are under-served.

“While RTA has done a great job of making all buses and rapids accessible (and have added bike racks as well), employment opportunities are oftentimes hindered by lack of public transportation so I would like to see the RTA route expand. I would also like to see more accessible vehicles offered by UBER and Lyft.

For more information on the Travel Training Program, please contact the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities. For other related resources or personalized guidance, call the Milestones free autism Helpdesk at 216.464.7600.


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