Earlier this year I visited Kitty Hawk, North Carolina and learned a little more of the story of the Wright Brothers and their first flight. That initial flight of just 852 feet opened the door to a rapid evolution of not just flight but discovery of a freedom through a new means of transportation. One cannot look at the news today and not see stories that center on transportation. There are stories about travel to Mars with SpaceX’s Elon Musk as well as the promise of autonomous (self-driving) vehicles. We also viewed the devastation of Puerto Rico when, without transportation, there was no way to distribute supplies after Hurricane Irma.
Transportation and specifically travel are synonymous with freedom and independence. Slaves could not have traveled without the necessary papers. Loss of driving privileges for the elderly has been linked with serious depression and suicides. For the person with a disability access to transportation is life transforming. Whether it is walking, public transit or vehicle travel, transportation is the access to work, shopping, recreating, socialization and medical and spiritual care. One third of people with disabilities have NO public transit available to them. For too many the biggest barrier to work is dependable transportation. For too many there is no sense of freedom.
Northeast Indiana has a mixture of urban and rural areas with varying transportation options. With more than 100 miles of trails (for those with the ability) shopping, churches and socialization may be a little more accessible. Public transit and paratransit with Citilink and CTN in Allen County and regional providers in surrounding counties are invaluable as they provide access to planned medical care and events. Spontaneous opportunities or sudden changes of plans, however, can be problematic. For the person where income isn’t a problem, there are significantly less transportation problems…but those are not the routine.
In 1800, a trip from NYC to Indiana would have taken five weeks on horseback. In just 50 years, that was trimmed to just two days as trains were introduced. Now, astronauts circle the globe in about 90 minutes. AWS Foundation dreams of an evolutional change to provide the freedom of transportation for the person with a disability. The promise of autonomous vehicles will be truly transformational if we can overcome the barrier of cost.
The United States, one of the only countries with the ability to put people in space does not even rank in the top ten globally for public transportation. The country that can have an astronaut seeing two sunrises and sunsets in an hour and a half, can surely find a consistent, reliable and responsive means to get a person from home to a destination to see that same sunset or movie and experience some sense of independence.