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Valley Metro sessions help disabled riders navigate buses, trains

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PHOENIX – About 20 people listen as Dolores Nolan explains how Valley Metro accommodates those with disabilities.

But for those in this classroom, many of whom are disabled, the lessons are more universal, starting with how to buy tickets, which types of tickets to buy and how use bus and light rail for longer and more involved trips.

Because many people with disabilities fear using public transportation, Valley Metro offers monthly training sessions at the Disability Empowerment Center operated by Arizona Bridge to Independent Living. After classroom lessons, participants practice boarding and make an escorted round trip on Metro light rail.

“It’s very effective,” said Nolan, community relations coordinator for Valley Metro. “People come in anxious and leave a lot more relaxed.”

Cristol Davis, a volunteer at the Disability Empowerment Center who participated in the class, said she enjoys riding the light rail because of the friends she makes. But for people with disabilities such as herself, the ride can be intimidating.

“People with disabilities are afraid to venture out,” she said.

That’s a problem because many people with disabilities can’t drive, Davis said, adding that she’s eager to learn how to make more ambitious trips on public transportation than the bus-and-light rail connection that gets her to the center.

Nolan said alleviating concerns that keep the disabled from even trying public transportation is an important first step for many.

“Our department at Valley Metro is all about taking the fear away from public transit,” she said.

Liticia Hawkins, program coordinator at the center, many disabled people have problems figuring out how to use the kiosks at the light-rail station and can get confused about how long tickets they’ve purchased are good for. Learning such things, she said, encourages them to venture beyond their comfort zones.

“This encourages them to be more independent,” she said. “It helps them get out more and not just stay put.”

That’s something Davis said she and others took away from the training.

“This helps people get more involved the right way,” she said. “It makes it better for everybody.”