Reliable public transportation is not just a luxury. For some of us, it is an absolute necessity. I am originally from Lafayette, Indiana, but have lived in Indianapolis most of my life as I attended the Indiana School for the Blind from preschool to my graduation from high school in 2007. I was born with a rare genetic eye condition that has rendered me totally blind, save a small amount of light perception, for my entire life. Therefore, I have never been able to drive a car and always knew that buses or some form of public transit would be my lifeline if I ever hoped to be a functional, contributing member of society.
For most of my childhood and teenage years, my parents and Blind School staff pretty much drove me wherever I needed to go. I didn’t really think about city buses much. I had had a small amount of experience with them in Lafayette during a summer camp, but that was it. When I was in my late teens, the Blind School offered a bus class, which I gladly participated in as I wanted to learn to become more independent. The Blind School is located on the 18 bus line. Back then, in 2006, using IndyGo was quite difficult because the website was confusing, and the buses were not yet outfitted with the GPS technology that allows for automated route and stop announcements. Therefore, I did not use the bus much beyond the class, and I once more resorted to friends and family for getting where I needed to go.
Then in 2009, I attended a blindness rehabilitation program at Bosma Enterprises here in Indianapolis. During this time, my understanding of public transit took off by leaps and bounds. I learned how to read schedules, plan my trips, transfer routes, and do all the necessary skills that make a successful bus rider. The world opened up to me. No longer did I have to wait on a family member to “feel like” taking me somewhere, or bribe a friend with gas money or a trip to Starbucks if they would just please take me to the store to grab some milk.
During this time, I was living in Muncie as a Ball State University student, and I continued to use public transit there. Since Muncie is small, I found its bus system simple enough, and I didn’t have much experience with IndyGo again until my wife and I moved back to Indianapolis in 2014.
I met my wife at Ball State several years prior, and we both desired to move to a bigger city for better opportunities. In addition to my blindness, my wife is confined to a motorized wheelchair due to severe cerebral palsy. Unfortunately, when we moved back to Indianapolis, the only apartment we could get was located near the far reaches of the route 34 bus line, and while effective enough at getting me where I needed to go around that side of town, it wasn’t practical to get much of anywhere else in the city due to lengthy travel times. My wife was apprehensive about using regular transit, opting during our time on the northwest side to use the alternative, paratransit service, which has its own set of problems.
In 2015, our lives changed forever. We secured an apartment just outside of downtown, close to 16th Street and College Avenue, a walkable area with 3 bus lines within 3 blocks of our house. Other changes took place that allowed my wife to become more comfortable with Indianapolis as a whole, and she started using the bus more often with me. She was amazed at the independence it gave her. No longer did she have to call 3 days in advance to reserve a ride on paratransit. If she wanted to go to the mall, away we went. If she had a surprise meeting with an employment specialist, we just hopped on the 19A and off we went to Easter Seals Crossroads. I was, and still am, so proud of her for joining me on the transit adventure, as I believe both of us being able to experience Indianapolis this way has brought us closer together. She is my working eyes, and I am her working legs, and together, we conquer the city as pedestrians and bus riders. Yes, occasionally, we will get a cranky driver or a rude passenger, but more often than not, drivers are more than helpful and passengers, even on crowded buses, are more than happy to help me find a seat or wait without complaint while the driver deploys the wheelchair ramp and then begins the process of strapping her chair safely in.
These days, she has landed a great new job at the state government center downtown. We take the bus to her job in the morning, and I use transit during the day to complete household errands. It’s actually very refreshing to get off our bus at the new transit center and walk the 5 blocks along Washington to her job, and when winter hits, the route 8 will help us cover those last few blocks. If it weren’t for IndyGo, she would not have been able to obtain gainful employment. If continued progress is made on expanding transportation options here in the city, my hope is that it will open up similar opportunities for other disabled people with limited options.
We all have the right to lead rich, fulfilled lives. Let’s continue to strive to make that possible for as many Indianapolis citizens as we can.