By Judy Sanders
(Editor’s Note: Judy is an active member of our Metro Chapter and the immediate past secretary of the NFB of Minnesota.)
Who would have thought that there could be so many decisions to make when using transit to get from one place to another for a blind person? Let’s begin with trains. I have the least amount of experience with them.
I have taken two eight-hour train rides. The first was with a friend who required a decision about whether to use the two-for-one fare offered by Amtrak whereby one blind person pays full fare and the second passenger (the guide) travels free. Since my traveling companion was blind, we would have had an argument about who would be the guide. And then there was the issue of whether Amtrak would accept the notion of a blind guide. We both paid full fare.
The second train ride was alone. I was not very experienced in traveling alone so I was somewhat timid about the whole thing. At first, I thought all I would have to do is sit in my seat for eight hours. But calls of nature and hunger got to me. What to do? Food is a powerful motivator for me so I decided to explore the train. All one has to do to get around a train is walk in a straight line. I found the snack car, bought a hot dog, chips and drink, carried it back to my seat and dug in. I was so proud of that meal! No one brought it to me. I got it all by myself. By the way, calls of nature are also a powerful motivator.
And then there are city buses. Using buses comes with even more decisions. They, too, have discounted fares for people with disabilities, including blind people. Should I use the mobility-impaired card for half-price fare, a stored-value card that deducts a fare every time it is used or an all-you-can-ride card?
I thought about the mobility-impaired card when I was unemployed and trying to stretch my budget. But there was nothing in the criteria about financial need. And the name of the card bothered me. My mobility was not impaired if I had a bus to ride on. Or did they mean that the card was impaired? Whatever they meant, I decided to forgo that option.
My first card was a stored-value one. I learned that drivers could adjust the amount of money deducted and, without my asking, they decided that I was more mobility impaired than I was. The only way I discovered this was that my card lasted longer than it should have. So I gave up on that card and switched to an all-you-can-ride card. I pay for it in advance and can fight with the clerk about what I should pay. When in public I try to always battle with clerks and keep a smile on my face at the same time.
After paying the fare, there is the problem of where to sit. There are signs in the front of every bus that says to give seating preference to the disabled and senior population. I have always interpreted this to mean that we should save those seats for people who would have difficulty in making it to the back of the bus. So far in my life, I am still agile enough to keep going past the front seats. But most passengers have other ideas. There seems to be a mass exodus toward the back of the bus when I get on. I hear everyone saying “There’s a seat on your right; no, on your left.” I used to stop and say, “No, thank you.” But then they want to argue. So now, I just become deaf as well as blind and I keep walking. If I am with my regular bus riders who seem to know me they will say, “She doesn’t like to sit up here.”
I have a theory about where the best seats are on the bus. They are in the middle. Why? The rowdy people go to the back and the inebriated passengers can’t get any further than the front.
Now that I have made all these decisions about using public transit, I can enjoy my rides.