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.

15 Addresses to Memorize in College


Recently, a sighted friend at my college asked me how I was able to navigate campus with a blindness cane better than they could without one. I have gotten lost several times on campus, but I have found that having important campus addresses input into my phone, as well as memorized, has helped me tremendously with learning to navigate. Here are the fifteen addresses I keep immediately for reference. This is also a great list of places to go over during orientation and mobility instruction.

General campus address

While this isn’t very useful for navigating around campus or getting to a specific location, having the general address is helpful when trying to find where campus is, or for filling out forms that ask for a generic address.

Dorm building

This is your home away from home, and it’s very important to know how to get there. There is a huge sign in the lobby of my building with the address, which is necessary for contacting emergency services. It’s good to have a list of instructions on how to locate the dorm- for example, 1411 is located on the fourth floor, right side, next to the trash room.

Neighboring buildings

Whenever the fire alarm goes off, I often navigate to neighboring buildings so I don’t have to deal with the flashing lights. I also put down my delivery address for Amazon PrimeNow and Amazon Fresh as a neighboring building, as it is easier to locate those buildings from the street.

Dining hall(s)

I frequented the dining halls so often my freshman year that my phone recognized the dining hall address as my “home.” It’s very important to be able to find food, as well as navigate the halls themselves.

Disability Services

This is in the same building as a student center, but I have found myself getting lost several times when walking here. Having the exact location of the office is also helpful if it is a large building- though from my experience, staff are likely to notice a lost-looking person with a blindness cane and show them where Disability Services is.  Learn how to create a file here.

Neighborhood desk

Locked out? Learn how to walk to the neighborhood desk both with and without a blindness cane. Half of the time I’ve been locked out, my blindness cane has been in my room. The neighborhood desk also has free rentals for items like DVD players, board games, cleaning supplies, and rolling carts.

Library

Yes, libraries have so much more than just print resources! It’s a common meeting place for students and study groups, too.  The library often has free rentals for technology and quiet study environments, as well as assistive technology resources.

Class buildings

Knowing how to get to class is extremely important. I write out building addresses, followed by directions to get to the classroom. A lot of my professors keep the door open before class and listen for my blindness cane, or watch to make sure I make it to class. One professor started doing this after they noticed I would constantly walk by the classroom when trying to locate it.

Advisor’s office

While having my major’s department location is helpful, I have benefitted a lot more from having the address for my advisor’s office. My advisors have helped me frequently with navigating to other buildings, especially in mediocre weather conditions.  My advisor also has my dorm building name written down in case they have to help me navigate back to my apartment.

Stadium

I have had many band performances inside the stadium, and many school events are also hosted there. Some examples include freshman welcome week, concerts, graduation, department events, speeches, and sports events.

Dorms of friends

Knowing how to get to dorms of friends is great for when a friend can’t come meet you outside your dorm. I keep a mix of addresses, both for buildings close to me and further away. I also keep one address for an off campus friend that I can access in case of emergency.

Student center

Another popular gathering place, I often navigate to the student center for club meetings, food, and for meeting friends. I would say I’m probably there 3-4 times a week.

Mailing address

The mailing address for packages is often different than the general or dorm address. Make sure to write this down so you are able to order items online, as well as instructions on how to get to the post office.

Nearest parking garage

While I don’t drive, I give this address to visitors so they are able to easily find parking.  It’s important to be able to walk there for escorting guests around campus, or for making trips to and from the car.

Bus stops

Being able to navigate off campus is almost as important as navigating on campus. I keep the bus stop addresses, as well as their neighboring buildings, with a large print copy of the bus schedule.

I programmed all of these addresses as contacts in my phone so I can use Google Maps for walking directions. I also have the information stored on my iPad and other electronics. I found the addresses on a public document published by the college. This has been a fantastic resource in helping me make sure I don’t get lost every day….just every few days.

How Do People With Low Vision…Graduate From High School?

As the school year comes to a close, many seniors are working on preparing for graduation and ensuring everything goes smoothly. My family widely joked that they were surprised I was graduating, because I had faced so many challenges in school because of my disability and chronic illness. My brother also thought I would somehow fall so spectacularly when getting my diploma, that I would become a viral video. Luckily, my graduation went smoothly, even though I had an awful migraine the entire time. Here are my tips on how to make sure that graduation isn’t memorable for bad reasons. For reference, my graduation ceremony took place indoors, at a college, and I did not use a blindness cane or other mobility aids.

Share concerns with teachers

I remember being extremely worried that I would trip and fall off the stage while walking to get my diploma, or that I would fall down the stairs shortly after receiving it. I shared these concerns with a trusted teacher who was going to be helping with graduation, and they were able to warn me about the location of potential obstacles on the stage, as well as appoint a human guide to help me down the stairs.

When entering, keep your eyes down

As we walked into the ceremony, I kept my eyes down and searching for obstacles, as well as avoiding the onslaught of flashing lights that was all around me. A member of my friend’s family remarked that it looked like I was crying, to which someone else said “she’s not crying because she’s graduating, it’s because this entire room is like a giant migraine trigger.”  This wasn’t noticeable on the graduation film.

Request no photography

Since I get migraines from flashing lights, I requested that the photographer, who was taking pictures of each student as they received their diploma, please skip taking photos of me. It really helped with making sure I didn’t fall off the stage either.  My teacher and principal helped enforce this and kept reminding the photographer prior to graduation about not taking pictures.

Have someone else move the tassel

At some graduations, the tassel on the cap is moved to the other side while the student is on the stage, while at others it is moved after all other students had received their diplomas. For those who are supposed to move their tassel on the stage and are unable to do so, ask someone, such as the principal, to move it for you. This is especially helpful for students who may have a broken arm, have their hands full with a blindness cane or guide dog, or that are very paranoid about knocking off their glasses.

When tossing the caps

At the end of graduation, everyone throws their caps in the air to celebrate being done with school, and done with the ceremony. I didn’t throw my cap in the air, and instead chose to duck and make sure I didn’t get hit in the face. Also, there was tons of camera flashes going off at that moment, so the idea of opening my eyes was not appealing at all.

I didn’t attend any of the extra graduation events that my school put on, such as the baccalaureate celebration, because I had only attended that school for two years and didn’t know a lot of my fellow students. Plus, there would be more flashing lights. I’m fortunate that no one could tell that I had low vision or that I was in chronic pain as I walked across the stage to receive my diploma. Most importantly, I’m glad that I didn’t end up as some viral video because I had tripped over thin air.

How To Navigate Campus

For my first day living at my college, the dining hall next to my building was closed so I had to walk halfway across campus. On my way there, I followed a group of students, but by the time I was ready to leave, no one else was going to my dorm, so I had to walk alone. I thought I knew where I was going, but thirty minutes later, I found myself a mile from my dorm with no idea where I was, how I got there, and when (or if) I would be able to find my dorm again.
My school offers 24/7 police escorts for students that feel unsafe walking alone, are injured, are disabled, that are lost with no idea how to get back to their dorm, or some combination of the above. Since I was in the middle of nowhere, I called Campus Security and gave them my name, a vague idea of where I was located, as well as a description of myself. About twenty minutes later, a kind policewoman found me after tracking my cell phone (similar to a 911 call) and drove me back to my dorm in her police car. While it was interesting to step out of a police car in front of all my new neighbors and get escorted to my dorm room, I was incredibly grateful to be in a familiar area.  Since that experience, I have still needed police escorts, but they have been few and far between. Here are some of the tools I use to avoid getting hopelessly lost.

Input addresses

Make sure to have important addresses available and easy to access, programmed as contacts in your phone and listed on a document saved to all your devices. My college has a list on the Environmental Health and Safety webpage of all of the buildings on campus with their corresponding addresses. I also recommend inputting addresses of buildings in the vicinity of your destination in case there is an issue with the GPS and it can’t locate your building.  I wrote out the addresses I keep record of here.

GPS Tracking

Most smart phones have the capability to pinpoint a user’s exact location and share it with others via a text message. By going into “attach media,” I can send my GPS coordinates to any of my contacts, and they can get directions to the location where I am, and wonder how I got there. This worked great when a group of my sighted friends got lost at the mall, and we were all able to meet up again. Location services must be enabled for this to work.

 

Google Maps

There’s a joke at my college that the first time you visit, you drive in circles for an hour because the GPS isn’t helpful. My mom and I experienced this when trying to find the student center for a meeting. Our GPS decided we needed to experience the great outdoors, and took us to a forest outside of campus instead. Even I knew we weren’t in the right place, and that is saying something.
While it isn’t the best app for navigating campus while in a car, the Google Maps software built into Android phones has often helped me. It seems to work best for campuses with older buildings, as the GPS may not recognize newer buildings, or will lead you into the middle of a construction site (been there, done that).

O&M Instruction

Anyone with a case file with the state Department of Blind and Visually Impaired can request an Orientation and Mobility (O&M) instructor. You should contact the office as far in advance as possible, to schedule the session for once you arrive on campus, and preferably before the start of classes. Do not be surprised if your first session is short, especially if there are many other students in need of these services. You can request more sessions. The instructor will walk you around campus and to your classes, so you will know where you are going. A typical O&M student uses a blindness cane, though it isn’t required to receive these services.

Fitbit

Some Fitbits have GPS tracking built-in, other models use the function MobileRun within the Fitbit app. I found that this is a great way to track how I get to class, or to figure out how I got somewhere and retrace my steps. The app is available on iOS, Android, and Windows, but requires a Fitbit. I own the Fitbit Alta and find it works great for my needs.

Navigating off-campus

My school has an extensive bus system that takes students to several locations, including major areas of campus, satellite campus, shopping destinations, and more.  Learn more about how I navigate the bus system here.

If all else fails…

Have the phone number for campus police so that they will be able to give you an escort back to your dorm building (this is where having your dorm address comes in handy!). Make sure to tell the dispatcher that you are visually impaired and require additional assistance. Don’t feel embarrassed asking for help, as even people with perfect vision can get horribly lost. I was told that it’s easier to give me an escort than it is to have to track me down when my friends report me missing. Besides, if it wasn’t for the police back on my first day, I would still be wandering around on the outskirts of campus, trying to find my dorm.