On February 27, 2019, Parsippany Focus published an article titled “Parsippany’s Office on Aging announces a new service for 2019” by Frank Cahill. As an occupational therapy doctoral student at Boston University, I care about matters like this because they impact the way people do important, meaningful activities. Cahill’s article reported that the Parsippany-Troy Hills Office on Aging is now offering a daytime transportation service to bring ambulatory, non-driving residents on weekly shopping trips. This service will be extremely useful for increasing community mobility.
However, the article does not elaborate on specific requirements for this service. I called the Office on Aging to find out additional requirements: 1. The person must be able to walk independently (can use foldable walker or cane, but wheelchairs, scooters, and large, non-foldable walkers are not permitted because they would not be able to fit into the vehicle) and 2. Persons with cognitive/emotional difficulties are allowed to use this service if they can enter/exit the house/store/vehicle without assistance from the driver. It would have been extremely helpful to include all of this information in the article so that residents can be as informed as possible about the requirements of the transportation service.
The information from my call indicates that although the service would increase community access for ambulatory, non-driving residents, “ambulation” refers strictly to walking in this case. Thus, the service would not be accessible to those who ambulate using larger/heavier mobility devices (wheelchairs, scooters, non-foldable walkers) or to those who require assistance carrying their purchases/packages. Without this information, residents may believe the service is more accessible than it currently is.
Additionally, I am concerned about the safety of persons with cognitive/emotional difficulties who wish to use this service. Even if a person is able to walk independently, this does not guarantee the skills (e.g. memory, orientation) necessary to safely navigate busy or confusing environments, like large stores. Persons using this service may travel with an aide if needed, but they would have to provide their own aide and account for this extra person when requesting rides from the service.
As this new service improves with time and practice, I would like to suggest that the Office on Aging, which consists mostly of clerks and drivers, consider hiring or collaborating with an occupational therapist. Occupational therapists have the knowledge and clinical skills critical for addressing safety concerns regarding community mobility, cognitive/emotional difficulties, and mobility devices.
Jamie Tam OT