January 19, 2018
Growing up is challenging. I’m pretty sure you can agree that growing up with a disability adds more to the challenge. In addition to dealing with “maturity perks,” like hormones, planning for life after high school, and homework, we live a life constantly battling obstacles on our road to independence. This can also come along with distance from friends, accessibility dilemmas, and overprotective guardians. All of these factors contribute to slight delays in shaping a social life we desire. A social life where we can go out on our own and interact with our peers. Hopefully, my personal experience of how I obtained independence while traveling can benefit other people with disabilities.
A desire to get out into the world was my main issue, and it became my main goal. Approaching my early teen years, I was tired of staying home the majority of the time. I was fourteen, so there weren’t many places that would hire me either even though I had just received my working papers. I was determined to go out and make some new friends. I wanted to take a trip to the mall or the movies, have a sleepover, or even travel down to Times Square.
Traveling around New York City by myself was scary for me—and for my parents. They kept me home. However, I needed to convince them I was ready. At the time, my peers were already taking public transportation on their own, but I wasn’t. I begged my parents to let me try and then it hit me. They didn’t keep me home because they felt I wasn’t ready—they kept me home because they feared that the world of local transportation wouldn’t be accessible enough for me. They were scared to let me out on my own knowing this world wasn’t exactly made for a young girl in a wheelchair.
I wouldn’t let that sense of doubt stop me. I remember telling them “I can do it, I can travel by myself.” Finally they agreed to let me get ACCESS-A-RIDE. After doing some research I discovered maps of accessible subway and bussing systems provided by the MTA. Once I knew enough, I gathered the information and proposed a plan to my parents. I told them that one day I would have to start doing things on my own and convinced them to let me prove it to them. I used it for about two years until I transitioned to public transportation. Although ACCESS-A-RIDE allowed me to get out into the community, there were still limitations. ACCESS-A-RIDE does not permit you to travel with a large group. They also won’t take you to more than one location. The MTA Trip Planner website made using public transportation a breeze. It has an abundance of information including detailed routes and accurate accessibility data to get people from one place to another using any form of public transportation.
In addition to public transportation, I also wanted to use a car to get around. I knew that I would need to have some modifications due to my disability and smaller stature. Luckily, these modifications were minimal. However, depending on your disability, adaptations can be more sophisticated, costly, and time-consuming. I strongly suggest completing some research and reaching out to companies who specialize in accessible vehicles.
Independent travel should be a top priority. Find what works for you, and get out into the world. Our society needs more people with disabilities to be active in their local communities!
Helpful links for get you moving in the New York Area:
Henry Viscardi School Class of 2016
Mariah graduated salutatorian from the Henry Viscardi School in 2016 and currently attends Marist College, where she is active in Student Government and majors in Communications. She aims to use her experiences as a young person with a disability to empower others.