I recently visited an old school friend of mine in Cambridge. The most straightforward way to get there from where I live in Swindon is to go by bus. There isn’t a single through-bus that goes all the way, however, and when you have a visual impairment, changing buses can be difficult. I therefore persuaded a friend to drive me to Oxford so I wouldn’t have to change buses. She kindly put me on the Cambridge bus and off I went.
Everything after that should have been straightforward but, for some reason, whenever I do this journey, the supposedly “through-bus” mysteriously turns into a “part-way-through bus” and I end up having to change buses at Bedford.
Sure enough, when we reached Bedford, those of us travelling to Cambridge had to alight and get on a double-decker. I piped up that I would need some help accomplishing this. The lady from the bus company told me to wait and she would come and get me, so I stayed put and waited anxiously for what was going to happen next.
After a short while, she returned. She offered me an arm in the approved manner and guided me to the next bus, where she had put a ramp down for me so I wouldn’t have to negotiate steps. I was impressed.
She told the driver that I needed to alight at Parkside and off we went. Parkside is the terminal but, as my friend pointed out, the bus goes back to Oxford, so you do have to make sure you get off!
I was just a little worried that, by the time we reached Cambridge, the driver would have forgotten about me, but, no, far from it. He came to help me off.
I asked if he could see a lady with a guide dog waiting for me in the bus station. Unfortunately, a “helpful” member of the public had sent my friend off to the wrong bay and she was nowhere in sight. For a moment, I was completely flummoxed. What was I do?
I was very touched when the driver said, “Don’t worry, I won’t leave you until you’ve met up with your friend.”
These are the sort of reassuring words you want to hear in these situations and I can’t tell you how much of a relief they were to me. Eventually, with the help of mobile phones, some better informed members of the public, and the patient driver, we managed to find one another.
Travelling on your own when you can’t see can be an eventful experience and I will return to the topic on another occasion, but I hope this brief account will give you a taste of the kind of problems you can encounter and how wonderful it is when you come across truly helpful people.
Oh, and before you go, can I ask you a favour?
If a visually-impaired person asks you if this is the bay for the Oxford bus and you’re not sure of the answer, please don’t guess. Just tell them you don’t know. It causes much less trouble in the long run!