Helping Blind Bus Riders

September 18, 1993

Too often, the reaction by some elected officials and others to the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act is to complain about the cost of compliance. Say "handicapped-accessible," and all some people can think of is spending thousands to install an elevator.

Sometimes, great cost is necessary to ensure the civil rights of handicapped Americans. But that's not always the case. A supply of paper cups, for instance, can enable wheelchair users to drink from a too-high water fountain. A wand on a chain can help people reach elevator buttons. In that vein, the state Mass Transit Administration deserves a tip of the hat for becoming the first large transportation system in the nation to test a system of flash cards to facilitate bus travel for blind people.

Some blind people who use the mass transit system find it difficult to know when their bus has arrived at their stop. They typically rely on other commuters to tell them or step up to ask the driver the route number. Sometimes, they get help; sometimes not. For the next six weeks, 20 blind riders are trying out a set of flash cards marked with bus route numbers that they can hold up to show a driver if they're waiting for his bus. If they hear a bus, they can hold up their card (which is also marked in Braille), forgoing some of the need to rely on the goodness of strangers to get around. Bus drivers, of course, must continue to remember to call out stops so riders know when to get off.

Some blind people might not find this aid useful. One woman who works at the Baltimore-based National Federation for the Blind feels that many visually impaired people have no problem using the transit system. But at least the experimental flash cards provide another option for people who have encountered problems.

Aside from a situation a few weeks ago in which the Mass Transit Administration fumbled the ball on providing a wheelchair lift for a train rider who reserved one to get to an Orioles game, the agency and its administrator, John A. Agro Jr., have seemed quite sensitive to the need, the legal requirement and the benefits of better serving handicapped citizens. The fewer the impediments for the disabled to work and shop, the greater their contribution to Maryland's economy.

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