Stacy Ellingen

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Stacy’s Journal: Transportation, the Unrecognized Enabler

2017-07-10
By: Stacy Ellingen
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Whether it’s going to the store to get milk, going to work, going to a doctor apportionment, or meeting friends for dinner, most people get out of their house on a daily basis.  It’s the natural thing to do.  For many people with disabilities, going out isn’t always easy.  In fact, it’s often one of the biggest barriers.

Growing up, I was blessed that my family was able to take me places just like any kid. As I’ve written about in past entries, I’ve probably traveled to more places than most people my age.  Before getting our first wheelchair accessible van, my parents took me places in a car and took either my stroller or manual wheelchair.  I was young enough that the independence factor (when I use my manual chair as opposed to my power chair, I have to depend on others to move me around) didn’t really matter.  When my parents got their first wheelchair accessible van, I remember thinking it was so cool being able to go places in my power chair.  It brought a whole new meaning of independence to me.  As I got older, we used the car and my manual chair less and less.  My independence became more prevalent, so the van became my main means of transportation.  Now, we just occasionally use my manual chair for things such as visiting relatives and vacations where we fly.

When I started at UW-Whitewater, I found a whole new means of transportation—my wheelchair!  Yes, UW-Whitewater had a service that gave students with disabilities rides around campus.  In most cases, I think the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) funds this for students who need it.  For a few years I was there, they also offered off-campus rides.  Students paid extra for this service and vans would take people to places such as stores and restaurants.  I used the service for a couple of years, but the service hours weren’t very convenient and it just wasn’t worth it.  I think they have stopped offering off campus rides now actually.  I used the on-campus ride service pretty regularly, but I also just went around in my chair quite a bit.  Whitewater is a pretty small town and the campus is small, so I could go anywhere in my chair (as long as the weather was decent).  It was awesome!  Whitewater also had a decent accessible cab service that my friends and I frequently used.  I had my manual chair down there as well, so oftentimes, my friends would just put me in their cars, and we’d go places. 

It wasn’t until after college that I realized just how big of a barrier transportation was going to be in my life.  My parents live outside of the city, so public transportation wasn’t an option.  I couldn’t cruise very far in my chair either.  I solely relied on my parents to take me everywhere.  That was a huge adjustment from college.  I had to schedule everything around their availability.

When I moved to Oshkosh, things got a little better, but not by much.  My apartment is in the city, but no stores or restaurants are real close by.  I used to go for long cruises all around town in summer.  However, unfortunately, that came to an end two summers ago when my chair quit on my way back from the park.  My whole family was out of state at the time, and it was a huge mess.  Fortunately, some nice people stopped to help me and they were able to figure out to call my care agency I had at the time (I’m nonverbal and of course didn’t have my communication device with me, so that added to the circus).  Needless to say, I don’t venture further than around the block by myself anymore!

Oshkosh does have accessible public transportation available.  Their bus system is accessible. A few years ago when I was working with DVR to try to find employment, they actually had me do bus training to see if it’d be a reliable source of transportation for me.  Unfortunately, due to many factors, it didn’t work out too well.  The closet bus stop is about two blocks away from my apartment which isn’t far, but if it’s raining or snowing, I have no way to protect my electronic equipment.  Plus, the bus schedule is very confusing, and it’d be nearly impossible to coordinate it with my care schedule.  There are two or three accessible cab companies in Oshkosh.  One is connected with the city bus system; that’s the one I use to go grocery shopping every week.  I have a standing ride to and from the store every week, so I don’t have to have someone call in each time.  They pick up and drop off my staff and I right in my apartment driveway.  It works okay.  Again, timing is an issue.  It has improved recently, but there have been times where we’ve waited well over an hour for a scheduled ride.  This wouldn’t be a big deal except that I only have staff for a certain amount of time.  I also wish there was some way that I could setup rides and ride the cab independently.  Currently, the only way to schedule a ride is over the phone.  Eventually, with technology advancing, I’m hoping that will change.  They also only take exact cash from people like me (I’m not on the MCO so I don’t get ride tickets).  I’m physically unable to hand the driver money, and I don’t feel comfortable having them root through my stuff to get it.  I wish that they had some sort of a pass or something I could buy.  Maybe in time they will.

Cabs are affordable for in-city daytime trips; however, if you want to leave the city limits or go somewhere outside of normal business hours, the prices skyrocket!  I live less than 40 miles from my parents, and if I wanted to take a cab to their house, it’d cost me over $250 one way!  I think that’s insane!  For now, thankfully, my parents are able to cart me around to most of the events I want to go to.

Relying on others for transportation definitely puts limits on a person’s life.  Not being able to go where and when you want can be very frustrating.  Self-driving vehicles are becoming more and more advanced.  I don’t know if it’ll be in my lifetime, but someday there will be self-driving accessible vehicles widely available (and affordable).  All a person will have to do is program where he/she wants to go using a phone or computer and then the vehicle will automatically go there.  How incredibly amazing will that be?  It’s hard to even fathom, but it will be life changing for many of us with disabilities.  I can only hope I see that day come! 

***The views expressed here are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of InControl Wisconsin, the Network or any of our sponsors.

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