Last week I heard a television commercial for Lab Express. This company provides discount lab services, such as blood testing, for people who do not have health insurance coverage. The announcer enthusiastically exclaimed “no appointment necessary” as if it were a benefit of using this service. Unfortunately, in many cases, “no appointment necessary” means you are not able to make any prior arrangements to receive service on a specific date or time. This is clearly not a benefit to the blind or anyone else who does not have independent control over their transportation. Fixed route public transportation runs on a schedule. Some city buses run only once per hour. Door to door shared ride services like Dial-A-Ride require prearrangement of both the departure and return trips. These trip times are usually not flexible and can’t be adjusted on the day of the trip.

Even in cases where appointments are not typically made nor reservations taken, we have often been able to make special arrangements with the company’s staff to meet our needs. In the case of laboratory work, we call the lab’s telephone number several days before we wish to set an appointment. We speak with a manager, who agrees to watch out for us at a prearranged time and to serve us as close to that time as possible, making sure we have received service by the time the driver is scheduled to pick us up for our return trip. If there is a line, we are taken to the front so that we can receive service at the agreed upon time.

Some in the blind community are firmly against our insistance on setting appointments and reservations when the opportunity is not granted to our sighted peers. They tell us that we are using our blindness to gain an advantage not enjoyed by others. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The reasons for our insistance on making prior arrangements have everything to do with minimizing the added negative consequences our blindness can cause us to suffer. After walking in and waiting in line to receive service, the typical sighted person will be able to drive away in their own automobile to carry on with the rest of their day. This won’t be the case for those of us who are unable to drive. If waiting an extended, unpredictable amount of time causes us to miss a bus or a return Dial-A-Ride trip, the consequences can be severe. At a minimum, the person who rides the city bus may have to wait an extra thirty minutes or hour to catch the next bus. An extreme consequence for a Dial-A-Ride subscriber missing their return trip might easily be the need to ride a cab ten to twenty miles, costing $30 or more!

If you are blind or are otherwise unable to drive an automobile, don’t be afraid to insist on the ability to make an appointment at a medical facility, a reservation at a restaurant that normally doesn’t require reservations, or to ask for other similar reasonable accomodations that will reduce the negative consequences of your not having access to independent, reliable transportation at a moment’s notice. You probably won’t achieve the desired results by speaking with the first person you reach on the telephone. Ask for a manager or supervisor. If that person is unwilling to reasonably accomodate your needs, continue up the chain of command. If you speak with a person who is empathetic with your situation, great, you’re all set. Make reasonable compromises. For example, we always have our blood work done at the lab when it first opens at 7:00 in the morning. If you have difficulty finding someone in the company who cares and understands your needs, continue escalating and speaking with more employees. Make several calls per day if necessary. The squeaky wheel usually gets oiled. If nothing else, you’ll take advantage of the fact that people are usually very busy at work. They’ll often accomodate you for the purpose of getting your issue off their plate so that they can attend to other important matters.

Please share your experiences with the need to schedule your life around available transportation options in a world that takes driving for granted.