I'm deaf, and have found that transportation services have a long way to go to be more accessible. Here's how I navigate traveling.

  • Sarah Katz[1] is a freelance writer who covers the intersection between disability and mental health, relationships, entertainment, and public services. 
  • As a deaf traveler, she finds herself “routinely excluded” from services that nondisabled travelers have access to.
  • Katz has developed a few strategies to navigate travel, like purchasing tickets ahead of time online, reading any information available, and asking others for support.
  • But ultimately, Katz writes, disabled people should have equal access to transportation services — especially because they pay the same as hearing travelers. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories[2].

Two years ago, a high-speed train I was riding from Baltimore to my job in Virginia jolted to a stop. A voice announced the stop’s name over the intercom, but it was garbled to me, because I am deaf. (My hearing aids offer some, but incomplete, access to spoken language.) So, I glanced outside the window for clues: No readily visible signs. Suddenly, a white, gauzy veil of panic set in — I didn’t know where I was and didn’t want to end up in a different state entirely.

I scanned the interior of the train but saw no signs there either. I questioned fellow passengers, who only shrugged. I hurried to a train attendant near the doors.

As soon as he informed me what stop it was — it was my stop — the doors closed and the train’s gears began cranking forward toward its next destination.  I wish I could say that the story ended there. Instead, I asked the attendant if there was a way to get off.

He pressed a red button, the doors swung open, and he motioned toward the platform, as if encouraging me to step off. Hurried, trusting his judgment, I followed his lead. I immediately regretted doing so.

Although the train wasn’t speeding, its momentum quickly overtook me, and my body slammed into the pavement, crushing my right wrist into six pieces. A week later, I was under anesthesia on an operating table, receiving surgery to repair a Colles’ fracture. My experience is far from unique.

Despite the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act signed into law 30 years ago, disabled travelers like me are routinely excluded from services offered to nondisabled travelers, with deleterious effects. Whether by road, the tracks, the sea, or the air, traveling is an indispensable aspect of modern life that connects people to jobs, education, and leisure activities. Yet, many forms of public transportation remain inaccessible to 15% of the world population.

This inaccessibility costs us our livelihood, mental health, and, sometimes, as my story reveals, our physical health. Research bears this out: According to a study conducted in the United Kingdom, needless transportation obstacles cause four in five disabled people to feel anxious while traveling.[3] As someone who has, nonetheless, traveled to far-flung countries such as Taiwan, Costa Rica, and Italy, I have noticed other troubling accessibility barriers for deaf and hard-of-hearing travelers.

For instance, airports around the world often make auditory boarding announcements to flyers without visuals. If one is not paying attention or doesn’t notice announcements at all, we miss important information, sometimes even missing the flight altogether[4]. While in flight, pilots usually verbally explain safety procedures without captions or text; the visual demonstration by stewards and stewardesses only offer a sliver of the information, which means that, in a state of emergency, deaf and hard-of-hearing flyers risk not having the same resources that hearing flyers do.

And on buses, deaf riders must remain alert to signage limited to the street instead of signage inside the vehicle, which is not often made available with announcements made verbally over speaker.

Although deaf and hard-of-hearing people like me shouldn’t have to compensate for inaccessible travel, we do it anyway.

These are some of the strategies that have worked for me. 

References

  1. ^ Sarah Katz (sarahbeakatz.com)
  2. ^ Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories (www.businessinsider.com)
  3. ^ four in five disabled people to feel anxious while traveling. (www.independent.co.uk)
  4. ^ sometimes even missing the flight altogether (www.irishexaminer.com)

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