The Road Begins Here – Part II – Before Getting Behind The Wheel

You’ve got your permit and your bioptic telescope. What’s the next step? You don’t just get behind the wheel of a car that easily.

Consider this: we as people who are legally blind and as people with albinism are almost conditioned to accept “no” for an answer to certain things because of the limitations that society has placed on us. Even though a good portion of us have had to work harder than most to achieve our goals, a lot of us are still considered a liability, or even worse, a statistic. On a good day, we are just a case number to some DMV employee.

Rockaway Beach from Arverne, NY

For years, I thought riding the subways and buses of New York City was my independence. It was a goal. In fact, it was the epitome of goals. One swipe of my MetroCard, and I could go from Brooklyn to the Bronx, from Manhattan to the Rockaways, and almost everywhere in betwixt. Thanks to the Orientation and Mobility staff of Lighthouse International and my parents who – even though they were deeply concerned about the prospect of their first born gallivanting around and traversing New York City – offered invaluable support and encouragement, I was able to attain that goal by age fourteen.

#4 train enters Union Square Station in Manhattan.

When I found out that I could use my MetroCard to get half fare rides on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro North, I was on cloud nine! All of a sudden, I could get on a train and head out to Wantagh, stick my toes in the ocean-kissed sands of Jones Beach, catch a sunset on the marina in Oyster Bay, or ride up the Metro North Hudson Line to see the fall colors from different spots in the Hudson Valley. (I usually hang out in Tarrytown, Scarborough, Peekskill, Beacon, or Poughkeepsie. All are beautiful, picturesque areas just off of the Hudson River)

Waterfall near the Roundhouse Inn – Beacon, NY

I was at the top of the world. I could come and go as I pleased (within reason), so long as it was within the confines of southeastern New York. Sure, bus rides took me to points north and west, and a plane could take me anywhere for a nominal fee, but what if I don’t have that type of money?

As much as I love a scenic train ride, there came a point in my life where I got frustrated with the availability of public transportation, or lack thereof, during those trips. Those of you using paratransit are all too familiar with the 12-hour-in-advance-call-in routine, although I’ve never personally experienced it. In not so many words, I wanted more! For once, I wanted to not be held to the mercy of a schedule on a piece of paper or the availability of a train or bus. I wanted to control my own destiny and to make my own stops along the way.

What Happens Now?

So, you passed your eye exam and written exam for the state. What are you going to do now? If you’re a bioptic driver, you should have your bioptic lens / telescope by now. I recommend you walk around your neighborhood or take a ride as a passenger while wearing your bioptic. This practice will help your eyes get more accustomed to switching between your regular carrier lens and your bioptic telescope.

Tip

Use your bioptic telescope only for things at a distance. Use your carrier lens for everything else. You’ll find that you only use your bioptic telescope for a quarter of the time spent driving.

Driving Schools

This may vary from state to state, but in New York State, you must find a driving school, a Certified Driving Instructor, or a Certified Driver Rehab Specialist who is specifically trained to help those with low vision. They will train you on the use of your bioptic while driving and also teach you how to safely execute normal driving tasks. They will also be able to help you compensate for your low vision by recommending certain techniques to practice while you work toward earning your license.

If you need help finding a school that offers these types of courses, check with your DMV or ask your eye doctor.

My Start

At one time, there were a few driving schools that weren’t too far from me. In fact, the closest school would have been in the Woodside section of Queens, had it not closed down. The next closest school would have been in Oyster Bay, Long Island, in the village of Albertson, had that not closed down as well. The closest school to me that also included the training I needed to use my bioptic turned out to be in Wappingers Falls, New York, in the middle of the Hudson Valley. For giggles, Wappingers Falls is a village that is just south of Poughkeepsie, New York, approximately two hours from New York City. Not intimidated, I reached out.

Meltzer’s Driver Training Center

Meltzer’s Driver Training Center was the only school that I found still open to teaching drivers who are “differently-abled” within all of southeastern New York. Deep down, I knew that anybody driving me up that far into the Hudson Valley would have been completely out of the question. Granted, it would have been easy by train, but the cost of travel adds up. Even half fare, the tickets from Grand Central Terminal to New Hamburg would add up fast. Coupled with the cost of lessons, it was definitely a pretty penny. For what it was worth though, I considered it an investment into my future, and if anyone was going to make that kind of investment, it would have to be me.

Each time I took the train up to New Hamburg, I had butterflies in my stomach. After all – at the risk of beating a dead horse – I was told many times that this would never happen. The scenic ride into the Hudson Valley had a way of calming my mind and my butterflies. For anyone who’s taken a train ride up Metro North’s Hudson Line, you can see for yourself why this is so relaxing.

The instructor’s name is Matthew Meltzer. He truly is an all around good guy. He was patient with me, but he also knew what my strengths were. He could tell when I was being uncharacteristically sloppy, or just plain nervous. If it weren’t for him pushing me, I wouldn’t have broken past a lot of the fear and anxiety that I had. After he taught me the basics and adapted them to the use of my bioptic, there was one lesson and one road trip that I would never, ever forget.

That’s coming up in Part III. Until then, stay tuned and follow from a safe distance. It’ll be worth the trip.

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