Transporting students with special needs is always a concern and priority for educational institutions. School buses are considered the safest means to transport students to and from school.
That is the reason why parents heavily depend on school buses for the transportation of their kids.
Having said this, schools now have an added responsibility of transporting those in wheelchairs. Handling the same is not so easy and even a minor error can make things worse.
It is unfair to deny permission for students to access school bus just because they are in wheelchairs.
Keeping this in mind, most or all of the school buses are designed in such a way as to accommodate wheelchair-bound students safely.
A lot of things need to be in consideration from securing the wheelchair properly, giving proper training to bus drivers and staff on proper loading and unloading of students in a wheelchair to safety measures to secure them in case of a bus crash.
How to Secure the Wheelchair Properly?
FMVSS 222 securement system is recommended to assure safe transportation in the school buses for students in wheelchairs.
A 7-point system can serve the purpose when the 4 points are designed to secure the wheelchair and 3 points to protect the student.
It is important to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for your system as well as the specific wheelchair in use. Having a look on the following mandatory checklist helps you not to miss out on any possible errors.
- Make sure that the wheelchair is forward-facing and is centered on the anchorage, properly anchored at 4 points
- Double-check to confirm if the straps are attached properly at an angle of around 45 degree
- See that the straps are not twisted and are away from sharp corners or edges. The straps are not advisable to be attached to any detachable part of the wheelchair or on the wheels. Also, see that you don’t twist or crisscross the straps.
- The three-point shoulder, four-point wheelchair tie-down, and the pelvic restraint system have to be in the right position while some buses even attach the tie-down straps to a frame for extra safety.
- The shoulder belt has to be strictly attached to the bus only and the lap belt can either be attached to a vehicle or to the wheelchair 4-point system.
- Before starting off the bus, ensure if the power is off and brakes are set and there is no reverse or forward movement
- Never ever keep a wheelchair near an emergency exit door despite the actual position of the wheelchair securement.
- The occupant restraint system can either be attached to the wheelchair itself or to the wheelchair securement system or the school bus anchorage points.
Loading and Unloading
Before you load the students, there should be a proper seating plan and loading order.
It is important to consider their medical conditions, evacuation challenges, and compatibility of students.
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Drivers or personals in charge of loading and unloading process will have to overcome many challenges including novel and diverse wheelchair designs, broken or missing wheelchair equipment, technical hitches with lifts or problems with frightened kids.
Here are a Few Important Considerations to be made While Loading and Unloading Students in Wheelchairs.
- Mostly, drivers will be responsible for the entire process which consumes a lot of time and doing it alone comes with possible risks, as well. That is why experts suggest that a 2-person team is always the best option. Enough support can be given to the driver by a parent, a bus aide, a teacher or even a classroom aide but an untrained person should not be operating the lift.
- Fasten the seat belt of wheelchair around the kid, give support onto the lift and see that they always face away from the vehicle, the brakes of the wheelchair are locked, and the roll stops are in “up’ position.
- Once the platform reaches the floor level, safely release the wheelchair brakes and slide them into the bus and fold it to the travel position.
- Before this procedure, they should make sure that his/her wheelchair is in proper working condition. It is good to have a person in the team with knowledge in doing minor repairs or consider option to loan equipment at times of emergencies.
- More importantly, it is important to treat those students with sensitivity and in no way hurt their emotions and make them comfortable.
- When handling chairs with trays, it is important to remove it to help avoid injuries in case of a crash but always consult the student before doing so.
- Wheelchair securement points should be good enough to handle the device without fail like on the nearest seat level, frame or at a welded joint and never ever locate these points on the removable part of the wheelchair.
- The lap part of the occupant restraining system is supposed to be placed over the pelvis to help the students to escape with minimum injury in case of a crash.
- The components of WTORS may look similar even if they are from different manufacturers but it is not advisable to use it together which may cause serious security problems.
- Always allow postural supports for students in wheelchairs, especially when they are comfortable with the same.
It is advised to encourage the use of WC19 wheelchairs because it is crash tested and provides the utmost safety during transportation.
Drivers will have enough confidence while handling students with these wheelchairs as it comes with enough safety standards.
However, this doesn’t mean that transportation can be denied to students without a WC19 wheelchair.
Schools have to take initiative to make sure that the drivers and related personals are given proper training when handling wheelchair-bound students in the bus.
Written and video instructions are provided by manufacturers for their specific products and the proper understanding of these instructions is essential to assure safety.
Moreover, the drivers should have a proper and safe stopping plan for the school bus.
They must plan well in advance to stop the bus in a convenient place so that the wheelchair lift can be operated properly.