Help may be in cards for blind bus riders Passengers enabled to signal drivers

September 15, 1993|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Staff Writer

A flash card the size of an envelope could make traveling around Baltimore much easier for the blind.

Under a six-week experiment that started Monday, 20 visually impaired Mass Transit Administration customers have been asked to use the cards when traveling on 32 of the agency's 66 bus routes around the city.

The cards, developed in Savannah, Ga., are used at bus stops to signal bus drivers. The technique is a reversal on the way limousine drivers find arriving air passengers by holding up signs with their names.

The MTA is the first large transit operation in the nation to test the system, said John A. Agro Jr., the MTA's administrator.

Deborah Thompson, 33, of Essex uses two cards, one imprinted with the number 35, the other with the number 55, to signal bus drivers when she wants them to stop. The numbers correspond with the two bus lines she travels most often.

When she hears a bus coming, Ms. Thompson, who is blind, raises the card matching the bus route she wants to take. The driver knows immediately which bus she is waiting for and that she is visually impaired.

In the past, visually impaired riders had to ask other people at the bus stop which bus was approaching or yell at the driver after the door opened, making them dependent on the goodwill of others.

"People are anxious to get on the bus, and sometimes they don't answer you," Ms. Thompson said. "You call out, 'Is this the such-and-such bus?' and there's no response. It can be a problem."

The yellow-and-black cards, which measure 3 5/8 inches by 7 1/2 inches, fit easily into a breast pocket. The cards are identified in Braille so that a blind bus rider can tell them apart.

MTA officials hope the cards will be a particular help to commuters such as Mark LoRusso, who must transfer between two bus lines to get to his job at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland in Southwest Baltimore each day.

Mr. LoRusso, who lives in Northeast Baltimore, must transfer to the No. 19 at Gay and Lexington streets, a downtown intersection that is served by numerous bus lines.

"You hope and pray the bus will stop, and sometimes the drivers are courteous enough to stop and ask which bus you need," said Mr. LoRusso. "When there are several buses in a row, it can be a problem."

Once a visually impaired customer is on board, the cards are a 0reminder to the drivers to announce stops during the trip, Mr. Agro said.

"I'm sure there are occasions when a blind person misses a bus or a stop because of missed communication," Mr. Agro said. "This helps provide a two-way communication, and we're excited about that."

Mr. Agro said he expects to decide in late November or early December, after hearing what visually impaired customers and bus drivers have to say about it, whether to make the program permanent.

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