Post-pandemic; Will Your Program Survive?
Travel Training is a profession very similar to a chameleon in that it that takes on many shapes and forms ranging from a simple “travel buddy” approach to a full Orientation and Mobility program. Variety is the spice of life after all, so why should those of us in this field be any different? The wide array of programs and approaches is largely attributable to the fact that every community has its own specific needs depending on population and demographics, and for a program to be successful it must be designed to meet those needs in a very specific way. Otherwise, the program will simply wither and die and fade into the woodwork. Let’s face it – decision makers by and large have a very limited understanding of what we do and how vitally important it is to the quality of life of our clientele. We have all heard countless testimonies from our trainees regaling our programs and how significantly their lives have been impacted by the simple act of training someone to independently use public transportation.
It's not news to any who are reading this article that programs across the nation have been devastated by the COVID crisis. The majority of what we do has always been field-based and the inability to circulate in our communities has effectively shut us down. Well folks, the reality is that we may never return to what we used to call “normal” in terms of how we approach travel training. However, this fact does not in any way shape or form change the fact that there are still countless individuals who need our service for their very survival. People with disabilities and seniors still face the same challenges as they did pre-pandemic, that has not changed and will not change. So, our challenge as a profession (that’s right, you who are Travel Trainers are professionals in my book, regardless of whether or not there is an accredited path to certification) is to figure out how we will provide these individuals with quality travel training resources despite the limitations that we may face.
When the pandemic first hit I, like many of you, initially thought “this will blow over soon so let’s just hunker down and ride it out.” About a month in I met with my staff and asked the what ifs:
What if this thing lasts more than a month or two?
What if in-field activities are impacted beyond the official parameters of the pandemic?
And the biggest one – What if we never return to what used to be considered “normal?”
Truth be told, I am inclined to believe that the last "what if" may be the most likely scenario. In response to these questions, I feel it is vital to the survival of our profession that we adapt and adjust and be prepared to face the possibility that what we do has effectively changed forever. We can ill afford to simply wait until we can go back to what we used to do. Instead, we need to think of creative ways that we can get the information and skills to our clients that we used to do through face-to-face interaction. As strange as it sounds, we are finding that many of the solutions that we developed specifically to address the pandemic concerns may have indeed caused us to come up with more efficient and cost-effective approaches to our program. Much of what we currently do is in a virtual setting, and this has reduced cost and provided better opportunities in terms of scheduling. I am by no means discounting the value of the interpersonal interaction of face-to-face sessions – that part of travel training will always be our bread and butter. But the ability to conduct a portion of the training in a virtual setting may help us to sustain our programs during these challenging financial times, and in the long run may prove to be the better approach.
I strongly encourage you all, if you haven’t already, to begin strategizing and developing your programs with the expectation that things such as vaccinations, face coverings, social distancing, and maintaining appropriate safeguards against disease transmission may become the new normal for the foreseeable future. Failure to do so may place your entire program at risk. Remember what I said earlier – decision makers don’t always understand the value of what we do. Let’s be proactive and show them that we are worth the investment!