As the holiday season ends in America and other parts of the world, I have been settling into my new home, as well as my new neighborhood. I’m also getting ready for basketball season. And once again I have something great to write about! So I am ready to begin!
People who have physical disabilities, like amputees, blind people, or people who need wheelchairs, can use public transportation in their own communities, towns or cities. They can use mass transportation, like planes, buses and Amtrak, and even regional commuter trains, outside of their communities.
‘I am not alone’
But when it comes to people with mental challenges, whether severe or mild, who have a good vocabulary and an education (I am not alone; there are others like me out there!), they are sometimes held back by their agencies. Why? Because some agencies don’t believe people with severe or mild disabilities, or even high-functioning adults who have autism, for example, should travel independently.
They feel that they could be a liability (I hate that word!). The agencies fear that if something would happen to them, it would make them look bad.
In a past article, I wrote about how I learned to ride the Metro in the Washington, D.C., area, and taught others. I wanted to go do this by myself, but I was not allowed. The agency thought, “A person outside a county on his own? That’s unheard of!” So I convinced them to let me try this with a staff person, via the Keller Bus System (the one that goes from Waldorf, Md., to Washington by day and back by evening).
It went well, but the new person who rode along with me told me I’d have to do it again. He did not have faith and tried to hold me back. I tried it with other staff persons. I did it on Sept. 11….1996! Had you going for a minute, didn’t I?
I had to put public transportation on the back burner for a while because of personal reasons. Then, on the spur of the moment, when I was not permitted to go to a wresting match in Baltimore, I struck out on my own.
Subway to Union Station
I took a cab to the Metro Anacostia Station and the subway to Union Station. Then I took a train to Baltimore. When I got back, a friend took me home, after I stayed in the station too long. I had other mishaps. But then I got better. I was learning the bus systems in the Washington area. The agency gave the cab company $300 a month to take me places, from work (when I’m late) to the Branch Avenue Metro Station.
On and off the bus
I think all agencies should prepare people to use public transportation by getting them SmarTrip Cards, Metro ID Cards, and Ride On passes. They should explain what the rules are and how to get on and off the bus, for example.
They should teach this to all people with disabilities so that everyone will be independent.
Self-advocate Tony Sampson is a graduate of Leaders in Disability Policy and a former member of the Maryland Disabilities Council. He works at Home Depot.