Like a lot of students, I didn't bring a car with me to college. Unlike a lot of students, I didn't bring a car because I have low vision and use a blindness cane to travel around. Needless to say, I won't be getting anywhere close to being behind the wheel of a car, so I have learned to master the public transportation available to me through my college and the city bus system. Here are some techniques and applications that have helped me in learning to travel around my city. Note that this post does not cover using the Metro, as that is for another day.
All public transportation affiliated with my college is free for students, and the college also has an agreement with the county that allows students to ride for free if they show their student ID. Some counties also offer free or reduced fare for riders with disabilities. For example, the MetroBus system in Washington, DC, allows people with disabilities to apply for getting reduced fare, though a doctor's note is required.
Get on the right bus
The buses I ride on announce their location and the name of the line they are on- for example, blue line to shopping center. I also check with the driver when I get on the bus to confirm where we are going.
Make friends with the bus drivers
I have gotten to know many of the drivers that work at my college, and they are awesome people! Often times, they will wait for me if I'm not at the bus stop on time, and help me figure out where I am going if I'm unsure. I've also had many awesome conversations with them about low vision and disability life.
Some bus systems use the app NextBus, or something similar. This app allows the user to track when a bus will be arriving, and adjusts for traffic delays as well. My college uses this system for tracking their different buses, and the text enlarges well on my Android phone.
Phone numbers for transportation
I keep the following numbers in my phone in case there is an issue with transportation:
- College transportation office- For checking bus arrival or other issues related to college buses
- Bus company- in case it is after hours for the office or a bus is not tracking on NextBus
- City transportation office- for assistance in locating bus or for transportation resources
- Next stop checker- type in the bus stop number and hear when the bus will be arriving
Google Maps can provide directions to many locations via bus. One of my favorite features is that once I am sitting on the bus, the app will show the bus moving on a map and let me know exactly when to get off. In addition, it also shows a countdown to when the bus will be arriving at another stop.
Managing blindness cane
If I am riding on a bus affiliated with my college, I will collapse my cane and rest it in my lap. If I am riding on any other bus, I will keep my cane upright, holding onto the grip of it. This is a cue for the other riders and driver that I am visually impaired.
Orientation and Mobility
I did not receive any orientation and mobility (o&m) training for using the bus system, though it is available through the transportation offices or state department for the blind and visually impaired. It isn't just for the totally blind, either. For sighted students who have difficulty using the bus system, some colleges may offer a seminar on how to use the bus system.
Where to go?
I mapped out a lot of the common places I frequent in the community, along with what buses to take. For example, I wrote on my phone that I take the G bus to Target, the name of the shopping center I get off at, how long it takes to get there, how often the bus stops there, and what times usually work best. I also write down the first and last time the bus departs from these locations. The first couple of times I used the bus system, I took a friend with me, but now I am fairly confident navigating on my own for most places.
Places I recommend mapping out
Some of the places I recommend mapping out:
- Grocery store
- Post office
- LensCrafters/other optician
- Local restaurants (bonus if they have student discounts!)
- Common student hangouts
I've been very grateful to live in an area with lots of public transportation options available. One of the things I looked for when researching colleges was how easy it was to get off campus, and my school makes it very easy for students to travel around (for more on navigating campus, click here). After all, no one wants to be stuck on campus or trying to figure out how to walk somewhere that's two miles away.