How Do People with Low Vision… Use the Bus System?


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.

Bus fare

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.

NextBus

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

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:

  • Pharmacy
  • Target/Walmart
  • Mall
  • Grocery store
  • Post office
  • Library
  • 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.

How Do People With Low Vision…Go To Museums?

Being just a short Metro ride away from the Smithsonian, I have been able to go to many different museums with my friends.  My two favorite Smithsonian museums are the Natural History and the American Art museums.  People who don’t know me well are often surprised that I love those museums so much, because they are so heavy on visuals.  However, I have found many ways to enjoy those and other museums in the area, and learned a lot by volunteering at another museum in my hometown.  Here are some of the things I have learned.

Go with a friend

It’s far more fun to travel with a friend than it is to travel alone.  I tend to use human guides in addition to my blindness cane when traveling because it’s helpful to have an extra pair of eyes with me.  Some things my human guides do include reading signs, letting me know where exhibit boundaries are, and locating items such as elevators and stairs.

Ask for a large print guide

At the Smithsonian, all museums have a book in large print and Braille of all the signs in the museum.  Some museums may have a heavy book with every sign throughout the museum, and others might have smaller guides for that particular exhibit hanging on the wall.  Other museums may have Braille on their signs or high contrast labels- the museum I volunteer at back in my hometown has labels for all exhibits at a font size of 36, so large print is not necessary.

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Example of museum guide for traveling exhibit

Disability-specific museum tours

The National Portrait Gallery offers specific tours for people who are blind or that have low vision at least once a month.  The art is available on high resolution digital images and an interpreter helps guide the visitors around the museum.  Check to see if the museum has specific tours for people with low vision, or can give access to high resolution digital images.

Flashing lights or loud noises?

If this is a concern, ask if there are any exhibits that have a high amount of strobe or flashing lights or loud noises when you arrive.  If the front desk does not know, maintenance would be a good resource as well, since they often spend lots of time in these exhibits. When I volunteered at a sensory-friendly event, I warned parents of guests with sensory integration about some hidden buttons in exhibits that made loud animal noises, another machine that made loud croaking noises, and a light that was temporarily flickering in another exhibit.

IMAX/Museum Shows

Because I have no depth perception, I find IMAX shows to be weird because I can’t wear the 3D glasses.  However, many museums offer descriptive audio devices that can describe what is on screen without obscuring other dialogue.  These devices should be requested when tickets are purchased, and some may require a safety deposit.

Interactive exhibits

When going to exhibits where visitors can touch objects, it helps to specify that a visitor has low vision.  When I went to a museum where staff were throwing around an inflatable Earth, I didn’t realize what direction it was going in, and it hit me in the face.  Staff can help by describing items thoroughly before offering it to a visitor to touch, and also warning them of any sharp sides there might be.  If it is a live animal display, ask before grabbing the person’s hand, and then move their hand in the appropriate area.

Audio tours

Often free, museums offer audio tours that describe items around the museum from a certain perspective- for example, Civil War history.  These can be a great addition to other accessible materials, and often describe the exhibits well enough so that people can close their eyes and imagine what it looks like.

Lost?

I’ve heard friends say that getting lost in a museum is “so romantic,” but as a person with low vision, I find it incredibly terrifying!  In order to help prevent this, get a large print map, if available, from guest services prior to entering the museum.  If all else fails, try and find museum volunteers or staff, and mention that you have low vision.  At the museum I volunteer at, we have had many lost kids and people with disabilities, and as volunteers we are trained to bring them to a central point in the museum, the front desk, and then help them be reunited with their party.

Online tours

Want to go to a museum, but can’t seem to get there?  Or do you want to see high resolution images on your device?  Google Arts and Culture has virtual tours of many famous museums, and high resolution artwork that is easy to enlarge and search for.  Available on iOS and Android, it is an excellent companion when traveling.

With these tips, visitors of all vision levels will be able to enjoy the educational and cultural opportunities that museums provide.