How a Woman with Disabilities Improved Transportation Access for Others

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By Mary Ellen Gambon

Mary Ellen Gambon is a freelance journalist for Bulletin Newspapers, Inc., Gannet, Inc. and is an epilepsy advocate. This story is just one of many examples of what Mary Ellen has done to help people with disabilities.

When you have epilepsy and cannot drive, getting around a major city like Boston can be challenging. Granted, I am lucky to be living in a large, metropolitan city and not in a rural town. But when something like a bus stop – or even access to a bus – is taken away without notice, it can feel like you have lost a critical lifeline to your world.

That happened last year when the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) or “the T,” for short, created a program called “the Better Bus Project.” They surveyed the entire metropolitan Boston region, trying to figure out how to improve service. Officials took surveys and studied traffic patterns to decide if routes should be altered or stopped altogether.

Mary Ellen Gambon

I live off of Washington Street, one of the main thoroughfares that connects southwest Boston. It also runs into suburban towns and connects to Route 1A, which would run into the major highways to the South Shore and Rhode Island to the south, and Maine and New York to the north. My apartment building, Rockland Towers, is a public housing development for elders and people with disabilities. Several people use wheelchairs, scooters or canes, like myself.

I was dismayed one day to find my bus stop across the street at Tobin Road was no longer there. Because of the Better Bus Project, some residents who lived in the area asked for its removal because of litter. I immediately called the T and talked with the Office of Transportation Access. I also called the Boston Disabilities Commission. I explained that the stop was directly across from a city elderly-disability complex, as well as in a neighborhood that has a lot of senior citizens and people who depend on public transportation. To get to the next stop, people would have to walk or roll about five or 10 minutes to the next one in our town.

Either that, or the one that might be closer would actually be in the adjoining town of Dedham. Even then, my friend walked it with his pedometer, and it took him and his friend 1,000 steps. His friend, by coincidence also has epilepsy as well as a heart condition. I did not think it was fair to put people with disabilities under that additional stress, especially as Boston residents.

Why, I asked, was this not taken into consideration in the planning process? No one could give me an answer, except that it was an oversight that no one had thought of. I politely suggested that more people with disabilities be brought to the table.

I worked with Mayor Martin J Walsh’s liaison and the T, and within a few months, a compromise was reached. The stop was moved about a half a block up, in front of a Dunkin Donuts. This was an ideal solution for me, as I need my daily fix of caffeine. It is still close enough to the crosswalk that it is not cumbersome. And it has increased business for the coffee shop.

“What else would be helpful there, Mary Ellen?” the liaison asked.

“Well, you know, we have to wait for 45 minutes at least for a bus sometimes,” I replied. “A bench would be nice.”

A few weeks later, the City of Boston’s Age Strong Commission installed a bench.

This winter, the bus stop sign fell down and I was disheartened. With COVID-19, it took a few calls to get it restored. I was thrilled to see it up again. I know that, if I took the effort to step up for the rights for others, we could all enjoy access to a ride.

The Defeating Epilepsy Foundation admires those in our community who go up and beyond to not only help people with epilepsy, but for other disabilities as well. We greatly appreciate Mary Ellen’s hard work and dedication and for advocating for those with disabilities.

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