For those who don’t know, paratransit is a service offered by local public transit that provides people with disabilities shared ride services within the transit system’s boundaries at a discounted rate. In the Portland area, our paratransit service is called Lift.
Every time I previously considered applying for paratransit, I felt a mixture of anger and humiliation. The idea of going through an interview where I’ll need to explain to someone why my disability makes using public transit independently difficult at least some of the time made my skin crawl. I hate admitting I struggle. That hatred is magnified when I am angered by a process that forces me to surrender some of my dignity to access a service that has been legally mandated to account for some of the accessibility challenges people with disabilities sometimes face using public transit.
Last week, I swallowed my pride and asked Aunt Barb to help me complete the inaccessible print application I needed to submit to begin the process that will hopefully result in me being eligible for Lift services. My interview is scheduled for next Wednesday. I’m not at all looking forward to the interview, but I’ve reached a point where I understand Lift services will help me gain a little more independence. That being said, I’m still struggling with what to say. I’ve got to find the sweet spot between saying enough to get the service but not saying so much that I leave the interview feeling robbed of more of my dignity than is necessary.
I will start by mentioning how impassible last winter’s snow and ice regularly made the sidewalks. Twice, the sidewalks were so bad that I couldn’t walk to the train or bus for more than a week.
I will add that far more streets than I can believe lack sidewalks. I will explain how the lack of sidewalks makes traveling dangerous by forcing me to walk in the street. The danger is a little greater for Ufi and I because there are two of us in the street.
I will explain how a large number of intersections have no audible pedestrian signals. Afraid they will tell me blind people don’t need audible pedestrian signals to cross most streets, my heart will start beating faster. My anger and disappointment will start flowing. To save my pride and maybe educate them, I will let them know that in many places around here traffic is too inconsistent to be relied on in every situation. Hoping they understand my point, I will say that there’s no way for me to know if an intersection has an audible pedestrian signal, if it can safely be crossed without one, or if there is enough traffic to hear a reliable traffic pattern.
If I have to, I will point out that their trip planner’s walking directions give me no details about the intersections I will encounter, whether the streets have sidewalks, or how to navigate unfamiliar transit stops.
I will finish by pointing out that there are some trips that I simply can’t do on public transit. If I need to take Ufi to the vet, he may not be able to work. I can’t carry groceries home on the bus.
If all goes well, I’ll leave the interview having access to the Lift and feeling like I spent way too many years denying myself a service that could make things easier because I worried too much about how others judged me. Even if that happens, I’ll never stop believing the system must change. People with disabilities should never feel like we have to choose between our pride and a service that does a little to address the inaccessibility that is still far too common. Accessing paratransit is yet another example where people whose lives are meant to be helped by a particular government program can’t take that help until they highlight their struggles and beg for the redress the law promises.