Love it or hate it, public transport is an everyday feature for many Kiwis who are blind or have low vision. This is Barbara’s story about her journey to conquering public transport.

Barbara Billington, 59, Wellington

Barbara uses public transport as her main mode of getting around.

It means that, without the option of driving, she can independently get to the places that she needs to go – like travelling from Linden to Lyall Bay in Wellington to get to Bible group.

“I use it often, and I find the level of service pretty good. It allows me to get around without relying on others to drive me or paying for taxis.”

Overcoming the barriers

Barbara is totally blind and her guide dog Lacey helps her navigate and get to the places she needs to go safety.

“She helps me find the door, and find a seat on the train. But her help can only go so far.”

At Linden station, there are no ground tactiles surface indicators which relay important information to people with vision impairments – such as where the edge of the platform is.

“I have fallen down the gap between the train and the platform more than once. I really hope that all train stations get tactiles soon, not just the busy ones.”

She has been working with Wellington Guide Dog Mobility Instructor Kim Norton on ways to make sure that this does not happen again.

One of these is a manual ramp which can be dispatched to cover the gap.

“Kim encourages me to be vocal to get the guard’s attention so that they can put down the ramp. It’s not the best solution but at least it means I’m safe.”

Barbara says other passengers are generally helpful by offering her a seat, and sometimes even helping her with the manual ramp. It can be a challenge though if people distract her guide dog Lacey from her job.

“I have put a sticker on Lacey’s harness which says ‘please don’t pat me while I’m working’ but people still do. Because I’m blind, I don’t know it’s happening until I feel her pull on her harness or her whole body shake and her tail wag.

She says if people ask to pat Lacey and she has time, then she will take off Lacey’s harness which is the cue that she is out of work mode and able to greet people. But sometimes she just needs to get from A to B.