Taxi Tales: Finding, Going, Paying

I’d come up with this idea after the previous weekend’s visit with my cousin, but couldn’t exactly decide how to encapsulate it. Then, I came across a great post by Tiffiny Carlson, about access or lack thereof to cabs for persons in wheelchairs. So thanks for the inspiration. I prosper from the world around me.

For blind folk, as least as far as I know, it’s never been all that practical to try and flag down a taxi. I suppose some can do it, depending on what level of sight they have, and maybe catching the closest available ride is a bit easier now as smartphone apps begin to come online that make this possible. I think though that there is some kickback to the general implementation of this idea, but hope it happens.

For now, I still use the old-fashioned method: place a call and wait. This is often nerve-racking, though.

I now live in an apartment with a difficult to discern address. Everyone from dispatch to the drivers, to heck, the pizza delivery folks and other passersby argue about exactly what it is. Even if I check with my phone’s GPS programs, I’m likely to get different results at different times. This means finding me can be a challenge.

For instance, I once thought a guy had said he was on the way to the right place and would pick me up shortly, because he said the correct street and number. However, it turned out that he then sat waiting in front of some location a bit farther up for ten minutes, finally placing an irritated call asking “Aye man, are you still trying to get this cab!” For this reason, I often opt to just go somewhere else for pick-up.

Ok, so I’ve successfully gotten into the taxi and am on my way. Where are we trying to go? How best to get there. Now, it’s certainly easier as I can just use my phone to tell me. But not all cabbies take the most cost-effective way, and I guess I can’t really blame them.

Because I’m interested, I just looked at this, apparently not wholly reliable, Wikipedia article that suggests that the first metered taxi service began in Germany in 1897. It says the meter even ticked, now that sort of feature would actually be convenient for the blind passenger.

Failing that though, I’ve heard there are supposed to be solutions on the horizon that will allow us to know exactly how much the driver should in fact be charging, as it accumulates. Maybe the meters will speak? Or perhaps the info could also be sent through our phones someday. If I feel somewhat shaky about how much it might cost for me to get there, I’ll just ask dispatch to give me a projected fare quote before leaving. Of course, if traveling a great distance many companies require that you pay in advance anyway.

So I’ve arrived at my destination and been told how much it will cost. “Uh,” I say “do you accept cards?”

Awkward silence.

If I’m lucky, they’ll grudgingly get out the card machine and swipe it. Or, maybe they’ll call it in and read my card number out loudly enough for anyone standing by to overhear. Worst of all? “No, I only take cash!”

Having finally begun to tire of this, I’m trying to make myself start carrying more cash around again. This of course has its own risks, but asking the cabbie to take me to an ATM so that I can withdraw the needed funds is definitely flipping a coin. In their defense, I must say that most try hard to be honest and make sure that I know they’re so being. Some have me call my bank and check the statement immediately. One individual, who could barely speak English, just summoned a nearby police officer to assist me in getting the dough.

The only person whom I think has taken me for a ride was a woman I met via Craigslist, no not you Shannon if you happen to be reading this, who probably shorted me $20 and then vehemently denied doing so. “I’ll just come and give you 20!” she said when I attempted to call her out for that. She never did so though, and I never used her again. Was a shame too, because she’d actually seemed pretty nice. But, it’s always difficult to tell.

As they say, it’s usually best to find and stick to a particular driver when possible, so that a fuller trust can develop. I do have my favorite driver, but lately I’ve not been as able to get her when trying to call. I can’t say why this is. Amusingly, on my short trip from Durham’s bus station to the Amtrak, I did meet the woman my favorite driver had asked to pick me up in this entry. She said that in addition to my little $5, she’d only made 10 all day long. I can kind of see why, as she didn’t strike me as the friendliest person in the world. That’s the thing, the best, or probably most aggressively tipped, cabbies are also good talkers/psychologists. Hey, whole shows have been made about this phenomenon.

So, to my other blind readers out there, what have your cab experiences been like? I know that unfortunately, they’ve still not always been friendly to those with guide dogs. This definitely needs to change. Have heard horror stories of people being dragged down the street while clinging to the doorhandle, all while trying to secure a ride for which they’ve desperately been waiting. Let us know your thoughts on this and other aspects.

Getting To Know You

I have always found it interesting the ways in which we become aware of those around us. I think especially among those who are blind, we are often not fully aware of the degree to which others watch, perhaps learn from, and become familiar with us from afar.

I especially noticed this this past week. I had to miss a day of work, because my left ear, the good one, decided to ring really loudly and make it difficult for me to function. This usually happens when we experience drastic swings in temperature, but for some odd reason it occurred on the day before said temperature changes took effect. It ended up being a plus, as it created an opportunity for me to go grocery shopping during the day. Less crowds, easier to get in and out, etc.

When I returned to work the next day, I was somewhat amused by the number of people who came up to say they’d noticed my absence and missed me. They knew my name, but I couldn’t really tell you who they were. In addition to my blindness, I am also atypically quiet in there. I’ll speak when spoken to, but generally I remain lost somewhere in my thoughts. I suppose this also explains how so many end up just getting to know me in a hands-off sort of way.

The phenomenon of knowing starts long before we even begin to speak. I’ve had the pleasure of participating in many of my twelve nieces and nephews’ upbringing, and was always amazed by how attached to me they became. They each seemed to have their own ways of preferred connection: one I could lure into a calm state by using a strap, another liked to listen to me whistle a tuneless melody as I walked him up and down the hall, and a third just needed to know I was in the same room as he was. This last one left me feeling like perhaps I could actually hypnotize him, as I could say “you’re getting sleeeepppy,” in that funny, dragged out voice and he would indeed quiet.

They would also, I believe, demonstrate that they knew I was unable to see them. Whether they thought this by choice or fully understood that my eyes didn’t work, who knows.

My niece, for example, would make a humming sound as her little legs propelled her along the floor and to me, until she was able to tap my leg.

And once, the strap-loving nephew decided I needed assistance into the laundry room to put my clothes into the hamper, and then back into my mom’s room where he knew I liked to watch sports with my dad. He may not have even been a year old then, and hadn’t really developed speech yet except for the ability to make a sound that approached “here”. Then he grabbed one of my fingers and led me around the house. I guess he’d seen enough of me nearly tripping over his and others’ toys. It was cute.

Even nonhuman animals are capable of getting to know from afar, of course. I think primarily of the little toy fox terrier that my sighted cousin had when he moved into our Charlotte apartment in 2008. I have never become as close to any living creature as I did her. Sad? Perhaps.

She especially enjoyed interacting with me when I sat in the big, comfortable swivel chair I had at my heavy oak computer desk. She’d tap her little head on the side, stand back a few inches, and watch me turn to face her so she could then leap into my lap. Then she’d lay there, picking her head up if I began to talk to her or demanding attention occasionally with her paws.

She most showed her understanding of my likely limitations once when I’d taken her out for relief. I guess I’d gotten lost in my thoughts, and she decided we’d go for a longer walk. She probably had tried to get my attention somehow, but I didn’t notice. Next thing I knew, we were on the other side of the street and behind that set of apartments.

“Look what you’ve done!” I yelled as I tugged on the leash. “Now how on earth am I gonna get back home?”

She then slipped through a narrow fence, causing her collar to pull hard and come off of her neck. Now if she’d done this with my sighted cousin in tow, she’d think “freedom!” and “game time!” and take off. However, she probably knew that I couldn’t catch her, so she sat down a couple of feet in front of me and waited for me to reattach the collar. Then, she got ready to cross the lot and, probably, correctly head for home. I didn’t fully trust that we could do this safely though, so I pulled back on the chain. I believed she then deferred to plan B, which was to find an apartment with a human inside that I could ask for help. I did this, and an old man who walked with a rather pronounced limp assisted us back to the right place.

I’d guess that getting to know one another, and discern likely motives, has significant survival advantages. And, of course it helps us get whatever it is that we want from another, as well as to give to others what they might enjoy. I’m not sure blind folk will ever be really good at fully understanding tendencies, since there’s so much we miss by lacking observational abilities at least from a visual standpoint. But, I certainly do pick up on and have an uncanny memory for voice, smell, and other odd quirks. Just something I’ve been pondering all week. How much do you pick up from others as you go about your day? Are you always watching as a new individual comes into a room? What about other kinds of sensory information.

On Healing

A series of recent events have me thinking about how I feel about life with dual disabilities. Specifically, to what degree would I want to mitigate or perhaps eliminate at least the medical component of said disabilities, should that become more possible in the future.

I suppose because I wasn’t born with significant hearing loss, but have had to adjust to it over the lifespan, I would definitely opt into something that promised to correct my hearing. I’m pretty sure now though that I’ve had some loss in that area even before I had become aware of it.

Certainly the technology to enable one to hear, at least in an electronic way, has progressed in leaps and bounds in recent years. Many see this in the existence of the Cochlear Implant. One thing that gives me pause in goingfor a CI though is that I’ve heard it can throw off sound localization, making it difficult for someone who is also blind to navigate safely around his or her environment. I think one could adjust to this, but I know not how long that might take.

I recently met an individual who is a mental health advocate, writer, and one who has assisted many people with disabilities in learning the social landscape. This person shared with me a video in which a woman hears sound for the first time via a cochlear implant.

I’d heard of this video before, and its attendant controversy. I guess people’s biggest concern had to do with the notion, right or wrong, that it would serve to enhance the public’s idea that perceived disability must always be a bad thing and should thus be dealt with. Some were also not sure how to take having such a private, emotionally jarring moment aired online. My position on that is it was her personal decision to do this, and should be seen as such.

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that deafness doesn’t get quite the social taboo that blindness does. I mean I suppose most wouldn’t actively choose to be without hearing, but many individuals who are deaf only can get good jobs and do things where their competence is questioned a little less. Are they discriminated against in some ways? I’m sure of it, and especially when attempting to communicate with others who are not deaf and don’t know sign language, or take in programming that isn’t properly captioned.

But when many see an individual who is blind, they automatically assume that some sort of sin has stained their soul. Some of the braver folks figure that God has actually appointed them to lift that sin, as a person tried to do this morning.

I’m strolling along, enjoying the birdsong and wind that finish waking me up as I head toward the bus stop. I get to the street corner, and over the sound of a roaring machine of some sort, maybe a lawn mower? I don’t know, I hear someone calling, maybe my name?

Are you talking to me?” I ask, turning to face the voice.

“Yes,” she replies. “God says he wants me to touch your eyes.”

And before I can stop her, she has practically smacked me in the face! She pounds my eyes a couple of good times before I softly remove her hands and push them down.

“Um,” I say: “I’m just trying to cross the street, an now I’m distracted. Can you tell me when to go?”

“Yes, but you gotta feel what happened! You have to believe! God’s gonna open your eyes in a week!”

I just say ok, and thank you, and shuffle on down towards the stop.

Because I’ve never seen before, I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to suddenly have working eyes in a week. I guess it would be like that woman’s reaction times 100, as I’d be bombarded with stimuli that I couldn’t make sense of without the proper context and training. I wonder if people who hope for such things to happen to a totally blind stranger have even stopped to consider the ramifications of the situation?

Second, I think I’m made just the way I’m supposed to be. As with hearing, I don’t begrudge anyone who wishes to be able to see after having been totally blind whenever it becomes feasible to do so, but I definitely don’t. I guess in many respects, I would feel like I’m giving up my “self” as I currently know it.

These are certainly interesting and complicated issues, and I know many who are working to find their own answers as they deal with one, both, or some varying combination of them. I guess what it comes down to in the end, as I said when someone at a small church I went to thought of trying this same sort of intervention, is to respect the person’s humanity. Ask them questions about what they might want you to pray over, or if they’d just prefer to be left alone. Because what you think you see in someone else is not always what is.

#BADD2014: Housing For All

For I think I saw, the 9th straight year, this May 1st was Blog Against Disablism Day. Hash tagged #BADD2014 on Twitter, it asked individuals to talk about an area where people with disabilities still experience significant challenges in image, access, or perception. I wrote a post for this last year entitled The Rarity of Multi, in which I discussed some of the unique things with which a deafblind individual, or really anyone with multiple disabilities, must deal. I’m late to the punch with this, but figured that the message was more important than timing.

As I write, I’m viewing a Twitter stream about individuals who are in Washington DC, participating in a rally by an organization called Adapt that is designed to highlight continued access needs for persons with disabilities in housing. I suppose these are most applicable to persons in wheelchairs, in that ramps, low thresholds, and the like should be available to anyone who needs them. But as they point out, creating housing that meets these standards would have the effect of making it easier for others to get in and out as well.

I can tell you from my experience that fully accessible housing is still very much a thing to be worked towards. In my area of the complex, for example, I can’t think of a way for someone using a wheelchair to easily get into my apartment. Well I guess there are two potential ways: either squeezing onto the porch from the right side, which would involve some scary ruts in which one might get stuck, or coming down a fairly slanted hill onto the area between C and D. I suppose the latter way would be best, but would I’m sure involve its own dangers.

And if they get to my door, they would have to somehow hoist themselves up over the high step in order to get inside. Again, I don’t know a whole lot about how wheelchairs work, but I assume this is possible to do? Someone can inform me.

As this grassroots movement points out, another big part of access is affordability. There is definitely a lack of affordable housing that is also in decent enough shape for a person to really feel comfortable therein. I guess that I am fortunate, in that all I really need to get by is four walls that generally hold up and a door I can lock. However, even these haven’t always been promised me in my current residence, as one day the front door’s lock inexplicably broke and my neighbor and I had to double team the maintenance people in order for them to comprehend the seriousness of the problem and come over.

Given that so many of us with disabilities are un or underemployed, having the ability to keep that price down is tantamount to maintaining independence. I’ve talked with some who tell me that they have been unable to find anything less than $800 that also met their access needs, when really they need a place in the $5-600 price range. Some of these individuals have health issues that mean they can’t really be in situations that might disturb them, such as locations with loud music or rowdy neighbors. Others are blind or otherwise unable to power vehicles, and thus need to live along a bus line and as close to groceries, recreational areas and the like as possible. And yes, one might argue that these folks can use paratransit, a specialized door-to-door service for persons with disabilities, but even this requires that you be within 3/4 of a mile of a bus line in order to gain regular access. Slow change is happening, but currently housing in these areas, and especially affordable housing, is too often sketchy.

I am mainly hoping to contribute something to the thought process around this complicated issue, and the varied solutions that will have to be implemented in order to address it. I’m sure that there are many voices who can point these things out more eloquently than I can, but figure that by granting it some exposure here, perhaps I’ll get others to check those other voices out as well. For we all certainly have the right to live in communities that help us grow and use our potential to its fullest.