As people living with disabilities, public transportation is our lifeline. This fall, as our legislators listen to voters talk about their transportation challenges (and at a time when King County Metro faces cuts of up to 17 percent), the voices of people with disabilities must be heard. 

The state has a program dedicated to improving transportation for people with disabilities and other special needs, but this program is vastly underfunded. The state’s special needs transportation fund specifically promotes coordinated transportation planning and ensures that each community has access to transportation options that meet the unique needs of its residents with disabilities.

Politicians have a simple choice: increase funding for special needs transportation and accessible public transportation, or tell us our independence and our lives don’t matter. Our disabilities haven’t stopped us from traveling, working or being active in our communities. But inadequate transportation services can stop us in our tracks. 

I’m Teresa “Flying Eagle” Baird. I live with multiple sclerosis and I am a quadriplegic. Without access to special needs transportation, I’m trapped. I live in a rural area, and it’s the only way to get to town from my home near Granite Falls. Even though it’s hard to get around here, I love the mountains and like anyone else, I have the right to live wherever I want.

As an advocate, I’ve worked hard to get my local government to provide people with disabilities with access to public transportation. In my area, trips used to involve endless waiting, wasteful transfers and lots of planning. As a result, too many people with disabilities remained locked up in their homes.

Things are better now because transportation is more coordinated between communities, but there’s still work to be done. Even now, our local special needs transportation service is limited—it doesn’t run on weekends or late at night because of funding challenges.

Access to transportation makes me feel like an equal person. It brings balance and freedom. It gives me the opportunity to travel, seek adventure and follow my passions. It also helps society — it’s much more cost effective to provide coordinated access than to pay for people to take cabs.

Voters must speak up for the needs of their communities. I just want what’s fair. We need more funding for special needs transportation.

I’m Jacob Struiksma. I am blind. I walk and take transit to get everywhere because I can’t drive. The bus is my car; it’s how I get around. If the bus doesn’t go there, then I walk.

Bus service in Seattle is great, but there are still problems. Buses are full and often run late, traffic is heavy, and our system falls short when it comes to accessibility. Take the automated announcement system on buses as an example — it’s like playing Russian roulette. You don’t know if it will announce your stop and drivers don’t always fill in the gaps.

This is just one piece of the accessibility puzzle. Accessibility means offering travel information via speech, audio or Braille; ensuring drivers are trained to serve people with special needs on their routes; making neighborhoods walkable; and providing services on weekends, evenings and holidays. Transit should provide access to my neighborhood and connect me to other places, like my parents’ house in Arlington.

I ride at least two buses every day and I can tell you that transit absolutely must be improved. My friends and I worry about service cuts and what that would mean for getting where we need to go every day.

We’re always fighting for more funding, and it’s not fair. The state needs to keep things moving and take action to maintain our freedom. Join us in speaking up about our state’s special needs transportation fund and contact your legislators about this important issue. Find more information at wemovems.blogspot.com.

Teresa “Flying Eagle” Baird is a writer from Granite Falls who has been living with multiple sclerosis for nearly three decades. Jacob Struiksma is blind and advocates for transit and accessibility issues in the Seattle area.

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