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Friday, 18 October 2013

The Unintended Consequences of Mobility Training

There is no doubt that the thing I hated most about being a partially blind pre-teen was the dreaded 'mobility training'. When I was 11 years old, a well-meaning lady (let's call her 'Doris') started coming to my house once a week in an attempt to teach me how to get around. I loved the idea of Independence and couldn't wait to be allowed to walk home from school alone or go into town on my own, but I hated the reality of the training. It felt so infuriatingly patronising to be taught how to use a bus timetable or read a metro map. When I'd mastered these basics, 'Doris' would devise complicated journeys around the Tyne and Wear public transport network for me to complete whilst she followed at a distance to make sure I didn't come to any harm. I couldn't bear being watched by her and after one particularly nasty 'spying' incident I only reluctantly (and tearfully) agreed to continue with the training because I knew it would lead to my much-craved Independence.

Thirty years later I still feel angry when I think back to those sessions, but I can now also appreciate their consequences. Thanks to 'Doris' I have always been a confident and proficient traveller. I have no qualms whatsoever about undertaking long journeys alone, have travelled solo in the UK, Spain, France and the US and have always felt a thrill of excitement in the bustle of a busy train station. Perhaps this is why I do a job that involves around 15 hours of bus and train journeys each week.

My 'mobility training' certainly taught me how to find my way in both familiar and unfamiliar settings but I wonder now if it had a more profound effect on my approach to travel. I love getting to grips with unfamiliar public transport networks and can be quite geeky about the intricacies of various bus routes. Before undertaking a journey to a new place I can spent hours studying timetables, route maps and plans in an attempt to create a mental map of the journey before me and once I'm on my journey I love the sense of community and belonging that public transport brings. When most of my friends and colleagues would automatically jump into a taxi in an unfamiliar place, I feel a huge buzz when I get where I'm going via complicated combinations of buses, trains and trams. It may take longer, but it is so much more satisfying. Resorting to taxis feels like failure to me. So each time I successfully complete a tricky journey and triumphantly conquer another public transport network I think that just perhaps the 'Doris' sessions were not as bad as I thought at the time. Would I have become such a happy and enthusiastic traveller without her?