Orientation and Mobility: Welcome to SEPTA

Wow, sorry… I know it has been some time since I updated my blog about my Orientation and Mobility training. Maybe some of you thought I quit or, perhaps got run over by the bus, no I’m still here. In fact I’ve been very busy with O&M over the past few weeks.

SEPTAI’ve successfully used our local SEPTA to travel with Elaine and just recently by my self (to meet Elaine) to the Norristown Transportation Center (NTC), the main hub for SEPTA and other connecting buses and trains in our area.

I’ve also rode SEPTA more recently to visit one of my favorite places the Apple Store at King of Prussia Mall. This trip involves one transfer, and takes about one hour and twenty minutes by bus. Let this be said bus travel is not fast. To drive to King of Prussia Mall from my house would take a normal person about 45-minutes.

Reading and understanding bus schedules has been a bit of a challenge for me, not for the fact I don’t know how… but simply because I am a literal person. Bus routes don’t provide intermediate times only times for main stops. Since I am in-between, I find waiting nerve-wracking. If I know something is to be here at X time, it had better be here! – I hate that! 9:30 means 9:30, not 9:45…

Most people wonder how a blind person rides a bus, or knows what bus they are getting on. The simple answer is, we ask. Since I can’t always read the bus sign we always ask the driver “are you going to…” it’s always important to ask where your going, because though a bus may be heading the same direction, it may not be the bus you want.

SEPTA also provides a visually impaired riders kit, or “flag” as some would call it. It’s a little set of cards, and a holder with numbers and letters (large) and also marked in braille. You insert the cards into the holder to indicate your desired bus or train. You hold this at the bus stop to “flag” the driver, they are trained to look for this, and assist you.

Most newer city buses and trains also automatically announce the bus number and destination the bus or train is going to as you get on. “Welcome to SEPTA Route 93, service to Norristown”. – kind of cool eh?

In all my experience in riding local SEPTA has not been a bad one. The drivers seem nice, but are not overly friendly… just the ‘it’s a job’… kind of deal. But they take your questions well and make sure you get a seat. As a disabled person, I always get the seat right behind the driver or across from them.

The characters you meet on the bus are a whole different story. Any thing from your local businessman to your local bum, grandma and grandpa, to mom and dad, and let us not forget the ladies of ill-repute… we got’em all… But I’ll save that for another story.

Did I mention R93 is the bus that passes threw Norristown State Corrections? Do I have your attention?

Needless to say I’m still uncomfortable riding, and transferring. Norristown Transportation Center is big, and it would be easy to get on the wrong bus. But thankfully I can read the bus-stall signs when I’m right on top of them.

Not a comfortable traveler yet… but moving along well…

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Orientation and Mobility: Anatomy of a Stoplight

I really did want to come up with a wittier name for this post, but it is what it is… And today’s lesson was all about intersections controlled with stoplights.

We where at the same area we use last time, and made our way to the intersection I had stopped at before. Elain explained to me that there are two different types of stoplights. One is called a Variable Timed, and the other Fixed Time. You can guess by their names, it’s really simple.

Traffic LightA variable timed intersection is controlled by a stoplight with an embedded pressure plate or wiring that a car rolls over to control the amount of time the light will stay green on the next cycle. – You can usually see the wires or plate in the roadway. A fixed time intersection has a set interval of red to green cycles that will not change… Simple.

Did you know most traffic lights and cross walk lights timing are based on the fact humans walk about 5-feet-per-second? The wider the street, technically the longer the light will stay green, or walk light will stay on. Did you know that on a variable timed intersection, most lights will add about 3-seconds to the light cycle for each car in the line, most times with a maximum up to three cars deep? (That’s about 9 or 10-seconds.)

Man, it turns out mobility instructors really know their stuff!

So any way… We approached and surveyed the intersection. We determined it was a variable timed intersection; the main street cycle was about 30-seconds, and the side street was about 15-seconds. We noted stoplight pedestrian buttons and we talked about there use. Remember to use them when cars are rolling, so they interrupt the cycle; but remember, some may not work, (in our case one was broken).

The button facing into you is used to control that light crossing the street that you are facing, the button should never be behind you, if so, it’s likely not for that street.

We hit the button, lined up, and waited for the light to change. Here it comes, lights green, check left, center, right, all clear, and go! Always noting the danger point and crossing traffic, many intersections, it’s the middle of the cross walk where you could have cars turn in front of you, particularly if a stopped car is to your left.

Not bad, we made it… and now… we do it again! We continued this way making circles around the intersection when it was the proper time to cross; it must have looked funny, because we looped the intersection clockwise about a half-dozen times.

We talked about the dangerous turn-on-red that so many drivers like to do, even though some (a lot) like to ignore the no-turn-on-red signs. She reminded me that pedestrians still have the right-of-way at crossings, and if a car is at a stop, it’s unlikely they will turn on you. – But I still take little comfort in that. This is part of the huge anxiety of street crossings that gets to me. But the only way to get over this fear is to do more street crossings.

So drivers, please put down your cell phone, stop putting on your makeup, don’t pass stopped cars and pay more attention at intersections. Pedestrians have the right-of-way at cross walks, and persons with a white cane or service dog have even more! If you’d just pay attention, the road would be much safer for all of us!

If you blow your horn at me, and flip me the finger… I’m likely to cane your car, you ungrateful 4-wheeled little bastard. – Road rage, blind man style! – I didn’t say that, I deny everything! I didn’t see your car, I swear!

Next week Elaine says we’re going to play in more traffic, and a little busier intersection. Oh the joy! In all I’d have to say I’m still a 3 out of 5 for busy intersections. But a strong 4 out of 5 for lesser intersections.

Lets see what next week brings!

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Orientation and Mobility: Stop, Listen, Look

Intersection SignIn this lesson, Elaine took me to an outer part of town, but it happened to be right near our local Middle School, so I did know the location…

The objective was simple, to walk up, down, and around the block, stopping for all open areas (that includes driveways); listening, for cars and the direction of traffic, as of yet still waiting for “All Quiet“; and finally look to make sure all is clear before you cross a driveway or street… and as always, using perfect cane technique.

I made my way to the first street, surveying the location, noting the street name, the flow of traffic, and how the intersection was controlled… listened for “All Quiet” and made my way across… It was mid day so traffic at that time was very light. We made our way down a few more blocks, doing crossings the same way, always stopping, listening for any sound, and then looking before crossing.

This lesson was uneventful, as it was more for Elaine to observe me, and how I approached the curb, and to make sure I listened, and looked before crossing. We made a few turns, and looped back around.

While doing so Elaine normally travels a good 20 to 30-feet behind me as to not disturb me, and so she can observe.

As I walked down the street some people where out and about. As I approached an alley way I stop, and listen, check the curb edge with my cane as I have been told to do. While resting a moment I hear from across the street a man say “It’s OK, your fine it’s clear…” as I did then step off and cross the alley, I then hear “Watch your step…” of course I did politely ignore him.

White Cane ManI made my way down the street, and I over hear him and a lady say “Leave the man alone, he knows what he’s doing“… and a fleeting comment of “Them blind people sure amaze me, I don’t know how they do it…” – Well I have to say at least some one noticed my white cane! In all my years, I have never had some one attempt to assist me in crossing a street. It was a little embarrassing, but made me feel good, some one attempted to help.

As a note to my fellow sighted reader, I would like to remind you that most blind or low vision people who travel need little help, and if we do, we will ask. We know what we’re doing that’s why we have people like Elaine to train us!

You should not shout or startle a blind or low vision person; chances are they are concentrating on the task at hand… You should not yell “It’s OK to cross“, I will cross when I am ready… If I am going to cross a street, chances are I am at the curb, with my cane in front of me, waiting to step off. If I am not going to cross, I will likely pull my cane tight to my body, and be back away from the curb. – Please do not be offended if I tell you I don’t need your help.

In the next lesson, Elaine says we’re going to start working on crossing streets where traffic is a little more heavy, and you can’t always wait for “All Quiet“…

As always, feel free to leave your comments!

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