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Introduction

Communication with those passengers who use Mobility Devices are critical to making sure that your passengers are safe, helping to provide passenger assistance and be able to provide exemplary customer service. The actions of the driver start when they arrive at the pickup point and greet the customer. In this day and age of a growing NEMT market and competition, your drivers play a critical role in helping to grow your business. Remember, that you can only make a first impression one time!

What is a Mobility Device?

Most people are familiar with the manual and power wheelchairs and electric scooters used by people with mobility disabilities. The term “wheelchair” is defined in the rules as “a manually operated or power-driven device designed primarily for use by an individual with a mobility disability for the main purpose of indoor or of both indoor and outdoor locomotion.”  In recent years, some people with mobility disabilities have begun using less traditional mobility devices such as golf cars or Segway’s® These devices are called “other power-driven mobility device” (OPDMD) in the rule. OPDMD is defined in the rules as “any mobility device powered by batteries, fuel, or other engines. For the purpose of this article, we will be discussing mobility devices that refer to those passengers using wheelchairs. In all cases though, the best practice for NEMT drivers is to follow the communication steps outlined below regardless of which type of mobility device is being used. Communication is the key to Customer Service Excellence.

Training / Setting the Tone /Talking to the Passenger

In a previous article, I talked about preparing new drivers to deliver service excellence. In this discussion, we are going to talk about the training that is needed to help NEMT drivers communicate with mobility device users. Training plays an important role in teaching drivers the proper way to greet and talk with mobility device users. Let me take a little detour here to talk about the appearance of drivers. It is important to develop guidelines on how you want your drivers to look and appear to your passengers. Some advice I give to companies is to develop a dress code that they can adhere to. Items such as a standard uniform shirt (can be a polo with a company logo on it), clean and pressed pants, appropriate shoes, etc. all go into the development of a dress code. You might have different applications for male or female drivers.  Proper photo ID is necessary and should be on the shirt, or on a lanyard of some type.

OK, back to the training. The first step is to make sure that the vehicle in use is clean, has all the necessary safety equipment including the securement straps for the mobility device.  Make sure that drivers are taught how to complete a proper pre-trip inspection, and that you have a written program, policy, and procedure.

The second step in training is when teaching drivers how to communicate with mobility device users, is the greeting. I want my drivers to greet the customer, such as “Good morning Mr. Jones”  “How are you today”, my name is Frank Ciccarella,  and I will be transporting you to Dr. Smith’s office on Main Street for an appointment at 9:00 AM”.  “Is this correct”? This will set the tone for the driver and the passenger.

When talking to the passenger, make sure that you are talking to them, not down to them. If possible, make sure that you can get eye level, especially if they are in a wheelchair so they can understand the drivers’ instructions. If the passenger has an authorized rider with them, still talk to the passenger and the authorized rider can help the passenger understand your questions or confirm the answers. In some cases, those passengers using a mobility device may have a hearing impediment, but still can read lips, or understand the drivers’ questions or directions when talking to them.

Training / Preparing to Load or Unload your Mobility Device User

Loading

When preparing to load your passenger who uses a mobility device, your vehicle should be prepared to receive them. Make sure that the ramp is lowered (if your vehicles are ramp equipped) or the vehicle lift has been deployed to the lowered position. The ramp or the lift should have been cycled during the pre-trip inspection to make sure that it is operating properly. When ready to load, the NEMT driver should be asking the passenger if they need assistance. Even if the passenger is capable of moving the wheelchair or assistive device themselves. Remember that the mobility device is an extension of the passenger.

When you are going to load the passenger, make sure that you tell them each step that you as a NEMT driver are going to perform. Pushing them up the ramp, tilting the wheelchair backward, moving left or right, all need to be told to the passenger, no surprises! When loading on a lift, I always recommend that the passenger be turned and faces outward, their back to the vehicle. Again, making sure that the passenger will understand what your driver is doing. Special precaution should be taken on lift-equipped vehicles such as the safety belt (if applicable), checking the lift to make sure the safety plate on the front of the lift flips up, the wheel locks are on, and then the driver should have one hand on the chair as it moves up on the lift. With power chairs, ask the passenger to turn the power off. During the mobility device securement process, it is important for the NEMT driver to tell the passenger what they are doing and talk about the securement. Remember, the NEMT driver is coming in contact with the passenger and the NEMT driver, before that contact happens, needs to tell the passenger what they are doing

Un-Loading

Once the NEMT driver reaches their destination, and before unloading their passenger, they should be telling them that they have arrived, and it is time to go. The NEMT driver must make sure that the location of where they are going to un-load the passenger is the location that is scheduled. If the driver is unsure, they should be communicating with dispatch to get specific directions. Your passengers may not know or don’t understand where they get dropped off.

It doesn’t matter if the NEMT driver is in a van with a ramp or a lift, start the process of releasing the securement system, telling the passenger each step and what securement straps are being removed. The NEMT driver should be aware of when they are going to come in contact with the passenger, and make sure they know before you come in contact with them.

When moving the passenger in a mobility device, if you are using a ramp, make sure that you back the person down the ramp, and the driver should be in position behind the mobility device to stop the passenger from falling. Ease the mobility device down the ramp slowly, watching your steps as to not let the mobility device fall off the edge of the ramp. Communicate with your passenger all the way down by talking when you start the maneuver, such as “ok, I am going to start going down the ramp, make sure to hold on, and I will be behind your chair guiding it down the ramp”, keep asking “Mrs. Jones, are you ok”?  When you get to the bottom of the ramp, tell them “We are at the bottom hold on”, This reinforcement of what you are doing gives your passengers a sense of security and safety.

With a vehicle equipped with a lift, deploy the lift once the mobility device is released from the securement system. Move the passenger onto the lift, I recommend forward facing out, back to the vehicle,  and lock their mobility device in place using the wheel locks. Make sure that the safety belt is in place (if applicable) and the front roll plate is in the up position. Tell the passenger that you have checked these items and that you are going to exit the vehicle and go to the outside to control the lift. Always tell them to hang on and if electric, not to power the chair on until the lift reaches the bottom. When you’re ready to begin the lift movement, tell the passenger you’re going to start, tell them to hang on, and make sure that the safety belt is on,  and the front roll plate is still in the up position.  

Once the lift has reached the street or driveway, tell the passenger they are down, and ready to go. Always remember to check the surrounding area where the passenger has to travel. Make sure it is safe, and if any issues ahead, make sure to communicate that to them, for example, tell them to watch out for the hole in the sidewalk, or watch out for the pothole, assist the passenger if possible around these obstacles so they stay safe.

In Summary

Good communication with passengers by the NEMT driver will result in being able to deliver Customer Service Excellence and help provide repeat business. In addition, good communication helps to avoid mistakes and helps remove or reduce risk. NEMT drivers need to make sure that they make a good first impression and treat the passenger with dignity and care. 

Thanks, and See You Next Time!

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