Customer Service and Sensitivity

Unless stated otherwise, the information in this section is based on U.S. Department of Transportation regulation 49 CFR Part 37 - Transportation Services for Individuals with Disabilities (ADA).

Customer service and sensitivity are especially important when serving persons with disabilities, and the ADA includes specific training requirements for assisting these customers. From Section 37.173 – Training Requirements: 

“Each public or private entity which operates a fixed route or demand responsive system shall ensure that personnel are trained to proficiency, as appropriate to their duties, so that they operate vehicles and equipment safely and properly assist and treat individuals with disabilities who use the service in a respectful and courteous way, with appropriate attention to the difference among individuals with disabilities.”

For example, drivers need to be able to properly operate wheelchair lifts, ramps, and securement equipment, if available on your vehicles, and know what to do in emergencies when serving passengers with disabilities. Personnel also must be trained on how to assist these customers respectfully and with sensitivity to their different abilities and needs.

Here are some important customer service guidelines for working with passengers with disabilities, from Easter Seals Project ACTION and the American Bus Association’s Motorcoach Operator’s ADA Pocket Guide:

  1. Treat customers with disabilities with courtesy and respect.
  2. Use person-first language (e.g., person who uses a wheelchair instead of wheelchair user). 
  3. Give customers with disabilities the same information and choices that you give other customers. Include accessibility information in your customer materials.
  4. Never make assumptions about your customers’ abilities.
  5. Ask customers if they need assistance. If they say yes, ask them how you may assist. 
  6. Do not touch customers or their wheelchairs without their permission.
  7. Speak directly to customers, not their companions. 
  8. Speak clearly with a normal tone and speed, unless the customer requests otherwise. 
  9. If you are asked to repeat or write what you said, do so calmly and pleasantly. 
  10. If you don’t understand what the passenger is saying, calmly and pleasantly ask him/her to repeat.

There are also specific guidelines that personnel should be trained on for assisting individuals with different types of disabilities. Here are some tips for staff to keep in mind when serving the following populations, also from the Motorcoach Operator’s ADA Pocket Guide: 

Customers with hearing impairments
  • Face customers when speaking to them and don’t let objects obstruct their view. 
  • Do not raise your voice – doing so distorts your lip movement and makes lip reading difficult. 
  • Be sure to notify the customer of schedule changes or audible announcements.
Customers with vision disabilities
  • Ask customers how you can assist them.
  • Identify yourself and ask how you may assist the passenger.
  • Respond verbally when the customer gives you information so that he/she will know that you have heard him/her.
  • Remember to announce the customer’s stop.
  • If handling a monetary transaction, count the customer’s change out loud.
Customers who use wheelchairs
  • Ask customers how you can assist them.
  • Wheelchairs, walkers, canes, and other mobility devices are part of the customer’s personal space. Do not hold or lean on them without the customer’s permission.
  • You must assist the customer in using the lift and securing his/her mobility device.
  • If you need to operate mobility aids, make no assumptions; ask the customer how best to do so.
  • Be aware of your agency’s policy on wheelchair securement. If a passenger wishes his/her wheelchair be secured, the operator must provide assistance.
  • You cannot require a passenger using a mobility device to use a shoulder or lap strap if it is not also a requirement for passengers who do not use a mobility device.
Customers who use service animals

When interacting with passengers who travel with service animals, you should never touch or talk to the service animal – it is working. Also, while some service animals wear identification like a tag, vest, or special harness, it is not required. If you are not sure that the animal is a service animal, you may ask if it is a pet or a service animal and you may ask what type of tasks the service animal performs. For more information, see the Service Animals page of this toolkit.


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