Quinn Burch sits at a table reading on a briaille display connected to a computer providing live captioning during a meeting with the Department of Transportation. I was excited to have the opportunity to advocate in front of the department of transportation on Wednesday June 27 2018. I first considered speaking about the lack of accessible crosswalk signals for the deafblind, but then I decided to talk about paratransit. At DBCA, I learned that when advocating, I should keep it in the second or third person point of view, never the first. I learned that I should keep my personal stories out of my advocating. I learned not to hang out the laundry, so to speak. Instead I should address the bigger problems that affect me more, and not go on and on with a long list of problems.
One of my biggest challenges in the past decade or so, especially before Uber/Lyft came to my area, has been with the paratransit system I was forced to use. I have yet at 28 years old been unable to learn the bus system for a variety of reasons including inaccessible GPS apps that work with braille displays and a lack of orientation and mobility instructors who are experienced with the deafblind in the Capitol region of New York. As a result, my only option for getting around was STAR.
When uber/lyft came to the Capitol region, I was living on a tight budget. I was forced to continue using STAR in order to accommodate my budget. I decided I should advocate for better paratransit for all deafblind and disabled individuals across the nation as a result of my horrible experiences with the system.
I did NOT give the DOT the list below, because that would have been airing the laundry, but I wanted to share it here.

  1. They require clients to call at least a day before and schedule a ride, therefore there’s no spur of the moment rides like you would get with the bus or even Uber/Lyft.
  2. They are almost always late.
  3. In order to allow them room to be late, they make the client schedule pickup time hours before the time they actually need to be somewhere. For example, if I wanted to be at a doctor’s office for a 3:00 pm meeting, STAR would make me be ready at 11 am! This creates a huge problem because, in order to accommodate their outdated system, clients were assumed to have nothing more productive to do than stand around waiting.
  4. Paratransit drivers will not text, which is understandable due to liability and safety. However, the inability of the drivers to text or use some other mobile app in order to alert deafblind clients that they had arrived poses a safety hazard for the client who will be forced to to physically stand outside close to the curb to watch for them to arrive. There was more often than not no place to sit, so the client would end up standing there waiting for the driver while suffering through horrid weather conditions, exhaustion, or other factors.

Here is what I actually told the department of transportation on Wednesday. Paratransit is unreliable and unsafe as a result of inaccessible communication. We cannot communicate with our driver so we do not know when the car had arrived. We’re forced to stand outside waiting and watching for a long time when we could be doing more productive things. There’s nowhere to sit so we’re standing out in the cold or rain for who knows how long.
If you allow me to give you a quick mental picture of what we go through every time we use paratransit: imagine you left your key in the car and you have no spare keys to get in your car. You call a friend for a ride somewhere, but they don’t show. They don’t call. They don’t text you. Keeping in mind, you don’t have a way to get into your car and are stuck waiting outside in this very cold weather, while it continues to storm hard with no place to sit or place to go warm up. Your ride continues to take forever and doesn’t contact you so you don’t know when or if they arrive. Your frustration starts to grow, mentally you start to worry if they’ll even show up making the worry almost too much to bear.
This is what we deal with on a daily basis: not that we want to however for many individuals like myself this is our only form of transportation that supports our budget. The paratransit drivers won’t text us, so we don’t know when or if they arrive and need to watch for them in unsafe conditions and unsafe locations. They’re more often than not really late so we end up standing out in the rain and snow for an hour or two as we continue to wait.
The DOT mission is to provide modernized and accessible and safe transportation for all across the nation. The way paratransit systems are set up now is neither modern nor accessible nor safe. The need for a resolution is great for everyone’s safety and we can make this possible by utilizing our existing resources that Uber/Lyft and other taxi companies already have in place: a GPS system that is programed to automatically alert riders via text or app-based push notification, of driver’s location as they approach the rider’s pick-up location. This also allows drivers to safely text and notify riders in these situations. The app would also utilize a (walking) turn by turn directions made in an accessible form (similar to UberPool Express) in order to increase safety for everyone.

By: Quinn Burch