Youth Learn Vital Independence Skills at Transit Trek Week

Last month, the LightHouse took advantage of summer vacation to offer our first Transit Trek Week for youth. Our goals included exposing the students in a fun way to various forms of Bay Area public transit including BART, Caltrain, Muni; honing cane skills, building confidence, and most of all, developing the desire to travel with gusto and savvy.

Our small but powerful pilot program brought together teenagers from California and even some from as far away as Florida. We mixed and matched them with three respected Certified Orientation & Mobility Specialists, Cindy Garcia, Betsy Laflamme and Regina walker, who work in our Bay Area school districts. The youngsters had just spent the previous week at the Enchanted Hills Camp Teen Session and got to experience the contrast between traveling in a natural setting of our campground, without sidewalks and traffic and moving through the hustle and bustle of San Francisco, one of our nation’s busiest cities.

Director of Rehabilitation Kathy Abrahamson said, “The intention of the Transit Trek Week was to have the students learn public transit while improving their travel skills and at the same time learning about San Francisco and the Bay Area. The cool thing is that they not only learned the transit systems in the Bay Area but also the geography of San Francisco. For example, the N-Judah Muni line traverses the width of the city and traveling on it gave the students a sense of the city and its shape, from the Financial District to the ocean. San Francisco is not just a bunch of buildings, streets and cars in a downtown area has is rich with culture, commerce and outdoor beauty including expansive parks and trails. Muni’s busses and trains and BART’s trains connects all these things and makes it accessible to explore.”

Jacob works with instructor Regina Walker

Here’s a snapshot of the four-day program:

Day One

Armed with Clipper Cards for the week, the adventure started as students and instructors took the 49 & 38 Muni Bus from LightHouse San Francisco Headquarters out to Lands End and Ocean Beach. They examined the tactile map placed there thanks to work by the LightHouse’s Access to Information Services folks, then walked to the Visitor’s Center and used the indoor area to practice cane skills. The teachers were able to follow the schedule yet be flexible, adapting the lessons to the needs of the students. Hustling to catch the N Judah at La Playa, students walked the wide sidewalks practicing skills or on the beach in the sand – a completely different tactile experience.

Day Two

Students and instructors started the day with basic travel practice walking around San Francisco City Hall then took the N Judah and transferred to the #28 Muni and headed out to the Golden Gate Bridge where they practiced embarking and disembarking from MUNI train and bus, exploring the access components of each stop and bus shelter; locating open seating and interacting with the driver to confirm destination and drop off points. Traveling on the transit system was especially helpful for the twins from Florida who come to California annually and hadn’t had much experience on public transport. They finished the day by returning to the #28 Muni to Daly City BART station and then BART to the Embarcadero and back to the LightHouse.

LightHouse Youth Services Coordinator Jamey Gump accompanied the group and said, “We were able to encourage the students’ sense of adventure. Sometimes the students became frustrated as they challenged themselves to learn something new, but the teachers encouraged them to push through and persevere. The teachers kept it light with a good balance between instruction and fun.”

Day Three

By now the students’ confidence was building and curiosity took over. The group set out to explore Powell Street Station, downtown San Francisco Caltrain station and rode on Muni between AT&T Park and Embarcadero. At the top of the Powell Street Station, spontaneity took over and they decided to hop on a nearby cable car and take it all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf. They accomplished all they set out to do and more, because they were able to exercise that very independence of travel which was their overarching goal.

Day 4

On their final day of instruction the students were introduced to LightHouse Access Technology Specialist Shen Kuan. Shen, who is blind, is proficient and independent traveler and became a model for the teens, teaching them how to make traveling easier and more efficient by using the website to plan their route. Shen and the group then took BART across the Bay to explore the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley (where LightHouse has a satellite office). They walked around the Campus, explored the accessible elevator that goes directly from the Ashby BART station into the Campus and ended up lunching outdoors on the sunny exterior patio. They then hopped back on BART to the Downtown Berkeley station, did more training out on the city streets, and most important, found gelato.

Shen told us, “I thought it was good for the kids to learn what is possible – what can be made accessible. We are fortunate to have a transit system that has many accessibility features, such as talking ticket vending machines.

Florida resident Jennifer is the mother of two of the students – twin teenage boys Dylan and Damyn, who are both blind. She and her sons have come to the LightHouse for training and she regularly checks our website. When she saw the LightHouse blogpost announcing Transit Trek Week, she immediately contacted us to sign her boys up. She told us that in the part of Florida she and her family live in, she faces ongoing challenges in getting her sons the training they need to be confident travelers. “The LightHouse’s Transit Trek Week has been a great opportunity for me to bring the boys out for the kind of training we just can’t find where we live. In the few days they’ve been in the program I’ve seen my boys’ confidence increase dramatically, from 20% to 90%.” One of her sons was so excited about the transit system; his goal is to live in a city like San Francisco where transit provides such accessibility. In addition to working with the kids, Jennifer applauded the Orientation & Mobility instructors’ willingness to include her in some of the training so that she could understand better what her sons needed to learn.

Another student, Jacob, lives in the Bay Area. He has low vision and is preparing himself for less vision in the future by proactively participating in LightHouse programs like Transit Trek Week. Jacob’s goal was to really learn more about the BART system and traveling on transit in San Francisco. Instructor Betsy Laflamme said, “Jacob really appreciated the chance to practice using his cane. He hadn’t used his cane much before because he never really had to travel independently – especially at night when usually take the arm of one of his parents. This training gave him more confidence to walk independently in poorly lighted settings.”

We are so grateful to have the opportunity to collaborate on this project with Orientation & Mobility Specialists Cindy, Betsy and Regina. Jamey Gump told us, “I was very impressed by the teachers’ knowledge and experience and how they effectively taught their students. I’ve traveled independently for a long time – though my observation during Transit Trek Week I found myself rethinking how I use my cane.”

Next year the LightHouse is going to build on the Transit Trek theme by offering weekend day explorations for blind and low vision youth and adults. But you don’t have to wait to take advantage of training right now. As long as our funding lasts, you can receive up to ten hours training at no charge, through May 2015. If you are an independent blind or low vision traveler and are unfamiliar with Bay Area transit systems and stations, you can take advantage of this training. There is no age limit, though if you are under 18 you must have parental consent.

Read how you can get free braille guides for Muni, Caltrain and BART.