I have been legally blind since birth and almost completely blind since I was 12 years old. I was always told that I could do whatever I want in life, but I would have to work harder or do it in a different way.
The only exception to this is driving a car. I can’t look at a geometry figure, but I can feel it thanks to braille and a thermoform machine. I can’t look at the words on the pages of a book but I can listen to those words in an audio format. But the obvious reality is that the four other senses can’t compensate for looking at cars and traffic lights, all necessary to drive.
The Americans with Disabilities Act reflected this by requiring public transit agencies to develop a paratransit system for those who could face issues using the fixed-route service. This means that those who are eligible can schedule a ride ahead of time and pay $4 regardless of where they want to go, as long as it is within the same zone.
The problem with this is it only covers up to ¾ mile on either side of a bus stop. As a result, there are people with visual impairments and other disabilities not covered by the paratransit system who therefore can’t access Rhode Island’s diverse offerings, which include some of the best restaurants, beaches or needed medical support.
In fact, RIPTA can change a bus stop at any time, so potentially one’s house would not be in the zone anymore with just the flip of a switch. This is an equity issue, since without transportation, the disabled community is losing out on great jobs, at risk for more physical / mental health problems if they can’t seek proper care, and may experience a lower quality of life in general, knowing that they can’t access some of what people with cars can.
Due to the hard work of many General Assembly members, the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority is looking into a statewide program. As a user of this priceless system, it would be an understatement to say this would be helpful for me and hundreds of others who use the service. I’d hope that this new program could happen without sacrifices such as a major price increase, a cap on the number of trips, or a reduction in the hours the service can be utilized. These were proposed by the paratransit expansion study at RIPTA’s Sept. 21 meeting, and I hope it doesn’t come to that.
People with disabilities deserve better and just because they are throwing a bone, they shouldn’t take another away.
Ryan Lukowicz, 16, is a junior at North Kingstown High School who has been using paratransit for almost 2 years. He plans to pursue a career in politics or journalism.