As a deaf traveler, Sarah Katz finds herself routinely excluded from services that non-disabled travelers can use.
Writing for Business Insider, freelance journalist Sarah Katz describes her experiences as a deaf person trying to navigate public transportation.
Two years ago, a high-speed train I was riding from Baltimore to my job in Virginia jolted to a stop. A voice announced the stop’s name over the intercom, but it was garbled to me, because I am deaf. (My hearing aids offer some, but incomplete, access to spoken language.) So, I glanced outside the window for clues: No readily visible signs.
Suddenly, a white, gauzy veil of panic set in — I didn’t know where I was and didn’t want to end up in a different state entirely. I scanned the interior of the train but saw no signs there either. I questioned fellow passengers, who only shrugged. I hurried to a train attendant near the doors. As soon as he informed me what stop it was — it was my stop — the doors closed and the train’s gears began cranking forward toward its next destination.
I wish I could say that the story ended there. Instead, I asked the attendant if there was a way to get off. He pressed a red button, the doors swung open, and he motioned toward the platform, as if encouraging me to step off. Hurried, trusting his judgment, I followed his lead. I immediately regretted doing so. Although the train wasn’t speeding, its momentum quickly overtook me, and my body slammed into the pavement, crushing my right wrist into six pieces. A week later, I was under anesthesia on an operating table, receiving surgery to repair a Colles’ fracture.
My experience is far from unique. Despite the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act signed into law 30 years ago, disabled travelers like me are routinely excluded from services offered to nondisabled travelers, with deleterious effects.