It is one of the horrible ironies of modern life that blind and partially blind non-car-drivers can also find it incredibly difficult to use public transport. Surely, the very fact that the blind cannot drive should have meant that public transport was designed especially with us in mind.
Not so.. According to a recent RNIB report, 9 out of 10 partially blind bus uses have trouble hailing buses whilst 8 out of 10 have missed buses as a result of their vision. I use buses almost every day and hate not knowing which bus is coming until it is pretty much already at the stop. I used to use a hand-held monocle to read bus numbers. But this is tricky to juggle with glasses, white cane, umbrella, bag, bus pass etc. So now I use a mixture of techniques.
Where possible I rely on the electronic displays which claim to count down the minutes until the next bus is due. This works on my usual relatively quiet route, but isn't great at a stop serving lots of different buses. Then I just flag down whatever comes along and smile apologetically at the bus driver if I accidentally hail the wrong bus. Apart from being embarassing for me and annoying for the driver, this has also meant that I have unwittingly flagged down the odd lorry too. Sometimes I ask other passangers (or my kids) to tell me what is coming. This can be a nice way of engaging strangers in conversation.
And bus numbers are not the only problem. Recently, Oxford station reorganised which buses use which stops. There are four stops on the station forecourt so I really need to know where my bus is going from. There was no additional signage or news alerts about the changes. Presumably the operators thought that passengers would notice the changes themselves.This is not easy to do when you can't see the numbers and rely on habit and precedent. I was halfway to Rose Hill before I realised my mistake.
The problem with all my techniques for working out the buses is that they take away my autonomy and put me in the position of having to ask. They make me feel apologetic for even wanting to get a bus in the first place.
The RNIB's 'Stop For Me, Speak to Me' campaign is aiming to make drivers and buses more vocal. Why not shout out numbers, destinations and stops as a matter of course? Why such a conspiracy of silence?