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Monday, February 16, 2009

Transportation Troubles

"Transporation Troubles"

This year marks a new milestone in my quest for
independence - I am now using public transporation. Last
semester my parents had to drive me to campus and walk me to
my classroom. How do you think most college students would
feel about being escorted to class by their parents?
Granted, at 35 years old and deaf-blind, I'm not a typical
college student. But I still have the same feelings as
anyone else.
I live in a small town but we do have a transporation
service. It mostly serves the campus area but does go out
into the rest of the city a little bit. I am using
dog-to-door services for the disabled. This means a special
little bus will pick me up at my house and take me directly
where I am going.
Each ride, one-way, costs me $2. I plan ahead. I went to
the bank and got a stack of $50, all one dollar bills. I
put $2 in one pocket and $2 in the other. Then I can just
reach in and grab the money. No fussing with a wallet or
worrying about change.
The driver comes to my house and then escorts me to the bus.
I can get up the stairs okay. I hold onto the rail and use
my forearm crutch for both support and guidance. I can feel
the next step with my crutch and know when I'm at the top.
My least favorite part is finding a seat. I have to reach
out and touch the seat. If someone is there, I end up
touching a person. That always makes me feel weird and a
little embarrassed. Then I say "sorry" and try again on the
other side. Once I fin a seat, I buckle in and then give
the driver my money. And off we go!
It takes less than ten minutes to drive from my house to
the Languages building on campus. Of course we might have
to stop places to pick up other passengers. When the bus
stops, I never know if we are at my destination or somewhere
else. I feel silly just sitting there. If we are at my
building, I should get up and get off the bus. but how do I
know we are there?
So I sit and wait. I feel the bus stop and the door open.
Then the driver will tap me on the shoulder. That means we
are at my destination. Just to be careful, I always say,
"Are we at the Languages building? Yes? No?" When I say
"yes," I wave my right hand. When I say, "no," I wave my
left hand. The driver will tap my right hand to tell me,
"Yes, we are at the Languages building."
Then I get off the bus and the driver guides me to the door.
Today the driver did something really weird. Instead of
taking my free arm, she guided me by moving my crutch. Not
only was it an ineffective way to guide me, it took away my
balance support. I really should have spoken up. It's my
job to correct people when they are helping in a way that
doesn't actually help. But I get timid sometimes. I
learned my lesson when this driver walked me face first into
the door. Next time I will definitely speak up.
Getting to campus is actually a lot easier than getting
home. Before I even started riding the bus, my trainer from
the state Deaf-Blind Outreach program went to the
transporation office to discuss how they could best meet my
needs. She also rode with me during a couple of practice
rides. It seemed like we had it figured out. But without
her there, it's not working out quite so well.
The big issue is that I don't know when the bus has arrived.
I can't see it. And I can't stand outside for half an hour
waiting for the bus. I can't stand that long anyway, and
it's way too cold. So I sit on a bench inside, close to
the door. I am so close that I can feel the blast of cold
air whenever someone opens the door. The driver is supposed
to come in and tap me to tell me that the bus is here.
After my first class, the bus never came. I sat on the
bench for two hours before my dad came looking for me and
took me home. It turns out the bus was there but the driver
didn't know to come in and tap me. When I didn't come out,
he left.
I was waiting for the bus after my second class when someone
tapped me on the shoulder. Following my protocol, I said,
"Are you the bus driver? Yes? No?" The person signed, "no."
Wait a minute! I knew those hands! Meekly I asked, "Dad??"
Yes, it was my father there to wait to see if the bus would
actually pick me up this time. I was kind of put off to
have my dad show up like that.
Turns out, it was a very good thing he was there. Once
again, the driver didn't come in to get me. My father ran
out and told the driver what he needed to do. The driver
had no knowledge of the special instructions. He even
showed my dad the computer output. It merely notified the
driver of a pick up at the Languages building. Nothing
else.
My father was fed up. He made phone calls to the
transporation service and talked to supervisors and other
upper level staff members. He threatened to call a big
meeting about ADA violations and to contact the
transporation board members, who he happened to know well.
When my dad is mad, he is charged and ready to fight.
Finally, the transporation services got the message out
about my needs. They put it in the computer and on the
print out sheets. They posted fliers in the staff room and
sent memos to all the drivers. The word was out. No one
could say they didn't know what I needed.
Things are a little better now. The driver did tap me after
the third class and I got onto the bus. Then she got lost
and it took an hour to get me home. Ooops.
Today the bus was a little late picking me up. The driver
tapped me on the shoulder and then walked out to the bus...
without me. I guess maybe he thought I could find the bus
on my own. I had to call him back for help. Then he
wouldn't take my money. He just gave it back to me. I
don't even know why. it's still in my pocket as I type
this.
So, I'm having a lot of transporation troubles. You might
ask, "Is it worth it?" True, it would be so much easier and
less time consuming to let my parents drive me to school.
No worries. No waiting.... and no independence. Because
independence means doing it on your own. No parents
allowed.
I'm a person, just like anyone else. I've got the same
feelings and the same needs and urges. And just like anyone
else, I want the freedom to do things on my own. So is it
worth it? Is it worth the hassles and the frustrations?
You bet it is!

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