TrIP – The Knight Fantastic: Wheelchair Adventures by Pamela Wanderley

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Photograph by David Thomas Moran

When I first found out I’d have to ride the bus, I was very worried and anxious. I’d heard horror stories from fellow friends and acquaintances about troubles they’d run into using Access Lynx – the door-to-door transportation option available for those in wheelchairs or with other disabilities that would make riding the public bus difficult – and I grew worried. Would the regular public bus be as bad of an experience as I’d heard about Access Lynx? A friend of mine (who also gets around using a wheelchair) assured me the public bus, while not being the most pleasant of rides, was better than Access Lynx and that I would have no problem getting around.

The night before I took my trip, I’d spoken with my friend about going to her place as part of where I would choose my destination to be. I didn’t want to go somewhere far in case I ran into trouble and I didn’t want to go somewhere I would be alone at my destination, so she suggested I take the 104 bus from campus to get to her apartment complex to hang out with her for the day. With her knowledge of how the buses ran (since they were her main mode of transportation) she helped me figure out exactly what time I needed to be at the bus stop in order to catch the bus.

There was only one more problem with riding the bus: actually getting to the bus. Where I live in Waterford Lakes, the bus doesn’t actually travel near my house. For a brief time a few years ago Lynx had tried to add stops near my neighborhood, a stop directly behind my house and one at the entrance of the neighborhood, though the stops had been removed when no one had utilized the bus at either of these stops. In order to ride the bus, I would first have to get a ride to campus. After my mom loaded up my wheelchair onto the back of our van, we headed off towards campus, passing by my friend’s apartment complex in the process. I couldn’t believe I was going to school just to get on a bus to backtrack to get to her place, but I continued on nevertheless.

Upon getting to school, my mom had asked me if I wanted her to come with me. While I’d appreciated the thought of not going on my own, I knew I would get a much better idea of what it was like to be in a wheelchair on the bus independently without someone I knew trying to make things easier. She unloaded my wheelchair and I made my way to the campus bus stop to wait. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been nervous waiting even with the assurances of my friend that it would be all right.

When the bus finally arrived, I was surprised to see the driver didn’t seem all too bothered by the site of a girl in a wheelchair waiting. I’d grown used to people taking one look at me and my wheelchair and seeming awkward or even uncomfortable. Instead the driver had simply lowered the bus and went about lowering the lift to raise my chair onto the bus. I had gotten a few stares and impatient looks while people waited for me and the lift to get out of the way so they could board the bus, but after being in a wheelchair all my life I’d grown used to being stared at.

So far things seemed to be all right just like my friend had promised.

I began to grow concerned when the driver did a haphazard job at strapping my chair in. When the school bus picked me up from elementary school through high school, the driver and aide both made sure my wheelchair was securely strapped in to ensure I wouldn’t risk sliding all over the place. On the Lynx bus however, only two straps were hooked onto the back of my chair and that was all there was keeping my chair from moving around. I knew right away these straps wouldn’t do much to keep me from moving around, but I had already paid my bus fee and my friend’s house was only a few minutes away from campus so I figured I wouldn’t be in too much danger.

When others began boarding the bus, I’d been disregarded for the most part as everyone seemed to mind their own business. This had been something I wasn’t used to but found I’d actually enjoyed it. I’d gotten used to people staring – almost as if my wheelchair was a magnet for attention – so to be essentially ignored and treated like a normal person was something I found fairly interesting.

When the bus began to pull away from campus, I was excited to see that so far it was on time. This excitement quickly faded however when I felt my chair slip to the right a little on our first turn. I held onto the side of the bus in an attempt to keep myself still, worried something would happen and I would risk hurting myself or someone else. I only had a few stops to wait through, it would all be okay. Keeping my eyes focused out the window and a white-knuckled grip on anything I could reach to keep myself from rolling all over the place, I watched as my stop eventually grew closer.

As we reached my stop, I pressed the button beneath the window to alert the driver about stopping. When we passed right by the stop, I began to panic. This was surely it, I thought. I was going to end up much farther from my destination and have no idea what to do to get back. I began pressing the button again and again and was relieved when the bus finally did come to a halt only one stop after where I originally needed to be. It was then that I could feel the eyes on me. While everyone else could easily walk down the steps and be done with their trip, I had to wait for the driver to unstrap my chair, lower the bus and extend the lift. The whole process had only taken a few minutes, but it was much longer than it would have been had I been able to just walk off the bus like everyone else.

Once off the bus, I felt relieved. The experience as a whole had been nerve-wracking for me and I was just glad to be done with it. As I backtracked back towards my friend’s neighborhood to get to her place, I had come to a decision: I would definitely call my mom to pick me up later just to avoid having to ride the bus again.

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This blog post was originally published on TrIP: The Knight, Fantastic blog.

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