Feature Writer Alena Roberts – When Public Transit Leaves Me Stranded

It was a Tuesday afternoon and I was off to my knitting group. We meet at a downtown restaurant and I take the bus to get there. Everything was fine until I was forced to get off the bus a block before I normally do. This wouldn’t have been a problem except that I needed to cross a street that was in the process of being completely repaved. As I walked south listening to my left, I realized that construction was going to be a barrier for me. I felt frustrated and stranded. Thankfully, I was able to contact my husband and he drove me to my destination.

I can’t speak for all blind people, but I am the kind of person who practices a route with sighted assistance before I do it on my own. Once I understand the route and feel comfortable in the area then I have no problem with going alone. So you can imagine how I felt when I realized that my independence was being taken away from me because my public transit authority didn’t contact me to let me know that the station would not be open and that a street that I needed to cross was what I consider to be unsafe.

This is not the first time that I’ve felt some communication between myself and public transit was warranted. Last year this time, one of my regular routes was changed, but I was given no prior notice. I ended up waiting more than half an hour for the bus because I needed to get somewhere. Another example was when I lived in a different town and the stop I used was removed, forcing me to go 2 blocks east to find a different one. In both of these cases, I ended up needing sighted assistance to find out about the changes. Not only was I not contacted about changes, but the websites of many bus systems are not screen reader friendly.

It is my belief that in the 21st century there are simple ways to ensure that disabled bus riders can rely on public transit and that it will get them where they need to go. One option is for public transit websites to have a form for riders who want to be contacted in the event of route changes or city construction. The rider could choose to call into an automated phone message service, or sign up for an email list. Another option would be for public transit drivers to have cards to give to riders telling them who to contact if they ever need assistance. The cards should include print and Braille.  Finally, the websites indicating routes and times should be fully accessible, which means some alternative to a table full of numbers.

In the end, I got where I needed to go, but it’s likely that if I had known that my route was not safe I would have chosen to just stay home.

Comments are closed.