How to find independance with a visual deficit?
February 24, 2014 6:45 AM   Subscribe

I have low vision and I cannot drive because of it. I feel imprisoned and this is a last ditch effort to see if there is some solution (or partial solution) to help me gain more independence.

A couple of things first.

1. I live in Columbus, Ohio. Public transportation sucks here in general, but especially if you live out of downtown (which I do). We're talking about spending waiting hours for a bus (or being on the bus a really long time), both ways, if that area is even served (which it probably isn't). I have tried and tried to make this a viable option.

2. My vision lands me in between worlds. My vision is too good to qualify me for much additional help (I've previously worked with vision rehab services here which was a total waste of time and they were no help) but not good enough where I can drive.

3. My acuity is bad, but not terrible (20/60 with correction) but I also have strabismus and nystagmus, which means it's hard for my eyes to focus on details. Despite 20/60 being able to get a day license I've never been able to pass the vision test. Because of all of this, I'm hesitant to bike on roads and such as I can't read road signs, street names, license plates. Also, in my experiences drivers here don't like bikers and with my visual deficitss I just feel too vulnerable. (Because of my location I'd have to take major, very busy roads to go anywhere worth going).

4. I can't move right now. I live at home. I'm employed full-time but working a job that only needs a high school diploma. This is not by choice. I've had bad to terrible experiences with the job hunt so if I could move to another area with better choices for me I would, but it hasn't worked thus far. I have nightmares about being unemployed again. I have saved a good amount living at home, but it isn't like I can pay for a private driver.

5. I am completely dependent on my family for transportation. My mom takes me to work. My brother or sister will give me rides for other stuff but they both work and have other activities. I really am limited on how often I can ask for rides since they need to live their own lives and work multiple jobs. My parents and I have tried to make the public transportation an option, even just for work, but it's a no-go for most things.

6. Finally, I have asperger's. I don't have any friends I talk to on a regular basis (just once or twice a year). I'd like to work on this, and even find a boyfriend, but my lack of transportation really affects this, which just makes me feel more lonely. I live a good 20 minutes from most people I at least sort of know so even if I give them gas money I still feel bad about it, and I definitely have felt in the past (in high school) I've worn out my welcome this way.

I feel like I've exhausted everything. I really want to be less passive and take control of my life and do more fun things instead of waiting for things to happen to me but every time I get some good ideas I can't make the transportation part work. I kind of feel like I should just give up and stop trying, just accept that this is my lot in life and living at home is just the best I can do.

While the dream is to live away from home, I would really love to just leave the confines of my neighborhood (besides working) every now and again, meet some people without my mom picking me up, stuff like that.

If there is any hope for my situation, I would love to hear it.
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Could you qualify for COTA Mainstream? My sister, who cannot drive for less obvious reasons, uses a similar service in her hometown, and it's great for her. It seems like you should qualify... Of course, I have no idea how good the service is in your area.
posted by Kriesa at 7:03 AM on February 24, 2014

One thing to consider is your approach to finding things to do -- rather than starting by looking at things you want to do and then figuring out if you can work out transportation to them, perhaps start by thinking about places you can get to fairly readily and then seeing what's available in your area. Look, as well, at your family's schedule -- do they have anything they do regularly that takes them to someplace that you could do something as well? If they take their kids to soccer practice every Saturday morning and there's something you could do near the park at the same time, then taking you can become a simple part of their routine rather than a hassle or an extra favor.

I gather transit is bad, but it clearly goes some places -- what's available along the entire bus route nearest to your home? Any community centers or schools that might have adult continuing education classes or recreational programs that you could join? Any parks with fitness classes or walking groups? Agencies you could do any kind of volunteer work for? Are any of these in walking distance?

Perhaps you could join some kind of class or program near your work so that you're not asking for an extra ride home from work, just a later one. Another possibility -- one I've used a lot when I've lived in places with transit but not great transit -- is to take public transit as close to home as you can reasonably get and then take a taxi from there, so the ride is shorter and the fare cheaper.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:12 AM on February 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

You should see an opthamologist if you haven't already and talk to them about qualifying for medically necessary LASIK or PRK. Do you wear glasses or contacts currently?
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:13 AM on February 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is there anyone at work who lives nearby that you could carpool with? Less driving for your family, you get a lift to work for less than the cost of a taxi fare, and the co-worker would probably welcome a bit of cash for fuel.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:15 AM on February 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

So, you say you can't move; what would you have to do to be able to move? Because that seems like the surest way to make yourself more independent. Would you need more money? Would you need a different job? Could you work at your current job and live closer to downtown (with roommates, presumably)?

If you can't move right now, what are you doing to work towards being able to move in six months or a year? Because that's the long-term solution.

In the meantime, assuming you really can't move right now, you need to make more connections. People who will give you emotional support AND rides! Obviously this is hard for you because of the Aspergers and the vision and the transportation.

I don't know what your options are as far as cabs go - no idea what it would cost to take a cab 20 minutes in Columbus, for example - but is it *ever* possible for you to meet people via cab? Even if every other week you took a cab to meet someone or attend a meetup or event or support group you're interested in, that would be a lot more contact than you're getting now. Pick up some groceries or run an errand for your family on the way back and you also get to feel like you're contributing more.

Chiming in with jacquilynne's suggestion about figuring out where you *can* get to - invite people to those places! Is there a movie theater you can get to from home or work? Always be inviting people to the movies there.

Other ideas: join a church (people will give you a ride to church), talk to people ON THE PHONE (I know, I hate it too, but it's better than not talking to people at all), get to know your neighbors and do favors for them (shovel snow, babysit, pick up their mail while they're out of town).
posted by mskyle at 7:18 AM on February 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

Taxis (or rideshare services like Lyft, just started in Columbus) might help. Of course taxis are expensive, but so is the cost of a car payment, insurance, maintenance, and fuel, which you don't have to pay now. Consumer Reports estimates that owning one of the least expensive new cars costs about $5,000 per year, or $417.

Try allocating a monthly budget you can afford for taxis, so you know you won't be spending all your money on them, but you will also know you can take one occasionally when you want to. You'll probably still be saving money compared to car owners.

You might want to make moving to somewhere more convenient in Columbus, or a city with better transit like Chicago, a long-term goal. Obviously it won't happen overnight but you might feel better if you are making positive steps to make it happen.
posted by grouse at 7:19 AM on February 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I grew up in a car dependent suburban wasteland and hated it. I also spent a month outside of Charlottesville, VA 2 years ago and it was just completely awful. So I feel your pain.

Are there any co-workers who live near you that you can car-pool with? You can offer to help with gas. This might also help develop friendships

That said, I strongly advise that you develop a long range plan to move into a city. I've managed to live completely comfortably without driving for about 20 years by making sure I am in a city or on the outskirts but with good transit options. You will find a city provides a lot more options for public transport and also support for people with special needs. You will also be find lots of people just like you.

You've painted a picture where every good option is cut-off so you need to decide to strategically overcome at least one of the barriers. I'd suggest talking to your family as well. They might have some ideas or be willing to provide some support you don't expect.
posted by srboisvert at 7:23 AM on February 24, 2014

Rede Cross Community transport programs

This is just the first one I found. I'm sure there are more. In my community volunteers drive other reduced-access people around.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:27 AM on February 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

talk to people ON THE PHONE (I know, I hate it too, but it's better than not talking to people at all)

Google Hangouts and Skype make it easier to talk to people over video, which I often prefer to talking on the phone. Instant messenger services are good too. (Basically anything besides a telephone, which is the worst.)
posted by grouse at 7:31 AM on February 24, 2014

I totally understand how you feel! I am a non-driver by choice (and by multiple multiple failures to pass the road test) and also have lived with my family in a city with terrible transit. The ultimate solution to this problem is, unfortunately, always going to be "move to a city with better transit"... please know that though it's going to be tough to get to a new city with a good transit system, once you do get there the world will really open up for you. It makes all the difference.

In the meantime:

Is there anything within walking distance of your home? Can you try to extend your personal definition of "walking distance"? (e.g. if it's the weekend and you have time, consider walking as long as an hour to get to something interesting?) Even if the only things within walking distance of your place are really boring things, consider going there anyway just to get out.

You may have already tried something like this, but I have made long bus rides/waits or long walks more palatable by listening to audiobooks on my iPod.

Can you meet people halfway? If you can find, for example, a cafe that is 10 minutes from your home and 10 minutes from your friend's home, maybe you would be able to get a ride that far from a family member and your friend could meet you there.

The idea above to find a regular activity that you could do near a regular activity one of your family members does is a good one.

Can you spread the work around? In the past, I've employed the strategy of asking a family member for a ride into town to get to an event where I'm meeting friends, and then asking a friend for a ride home. That way I'm not relying on my friends in a tiresome way, and I'm not expending too much family ride credit, either. I've also noticed that now, in my 20s, my friends are actually much more understanding and happier to give me a ride than they were in high school. This could also work with a taxi--get a ride to the event with family, and then take a taxi home. That gives you freedom about when you leave the event, and you are paying for a taxi only one way.

Likewise, can you go straight from work to something interesting in the evening? Then you only need one ride (either from family, or by taxi) instead of two.

This is such an annoying situation to be in. I'm wishing you luck in finding some solutions that will work for you!
posted by snorkmaiden at 7:38 AM on February 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I also lived in Columbus, Ohio as someone who could only take the bus and walk. I live in Chicago now as a cyclist and I'm not going to lie, the difference is night and day; but I made it work.

I think the main difference between our situations is that I lived in Victorian Village, and work was only a few miles away, and I could walk to High Street for basically anything, or Giant Eagle or North Market for food, and I could walk to the library, and I could cut through Gooddale Park and walk downtown. Don't get me wrong, I walked way farther than most people consider reasonable, but I had my little granny cart for hauling books and laundry and groceries, a full length wool coat and very tall boots for winter, and I very quickly got in amazing shape just from walking 2-6 miles a day.

Columbus is not a very big city if you live in the center of it, and not very expensive. I was splitting a house in Victorian Village with someone on my salary from a full-time job at Target (Chicago has the public transit advantages, as I noted, but do you know who I would have to kill to be able to afford to rent a house here?). I know moving sounds like this big, huge, impossible thing, but can you possibly start working on moving not across the country or to a whole new scary place where you don't know anyone, but just to a more accessible, central part of the city?
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:44 AM on February 24, 2014 [7 favorites]

Also, if it helps you feel less alone, the reason I chose to never learn to drive is because of my Tourette Syndrome and anxiety disorder. You're not the only person who learns to live with and overcome their limitations, and you can do it.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:46 AM on February 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

i am on the spectrum, dispraxic, and legally blind, i spent a lot of time at home just feeling isolated as hell. if you want to call or email, feel free to do so.
posted by PinkMoose at 7:53 AM on February 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I live in Columbus, Ohio. Public transportation sucks here in general, but especially if you live out of downtown (which I do).

Oh, and if you do move closer to the city center, do not actually move downtown. The tall building business district is a total ghost town after business hours, no grocery stores, etc. Move to the Short North or Victorian Village or some place like that.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:53 AM on February 24, 2014

My mother is 74 & legally blind, in that like you she cannot see well enough to drive, but can see well enough to get around. As others have said you need to move to an area with better public transport, that is the first thing my mother looks for when looking for housing. Now I understand it's hard to just up and move, but it sounds like you are living at home so you are in a great position to start planning and saving to move out, even just starting to do that will give you some sense of independence as you are planning the direction your life is taking and taking the steps to get there instead of waiting for someone else.

Also see if you can budget in an occasional taxi, my mother often uses a combination of the better inner city public transport to get her nearer home and then a taxi to save money and time.

Can you walk places? I mean seriously think about it, I know it sucks in winter, but summer is coming and my mother walks pretty much every place she needs to go on a daily basis. Doctors appointment she'll walk the mile there and back, hair appointment she'll walk it. Heck she does a mile round trip walk every morning with her dog just to get to her favourite coffee shop for her morning coffee. I know I was surprised when I moved to the US by just how little people will walk, yes walking takes time but if you would have to wait 2 hours for a bus, or until someone can fit in driving you there and could walk it in an hour it might be something to consider.

I'd just like to add as a motivational thing you can do this, my mother has traveled the world by herself while "legally" blind and heck is currently planning a trip next year to Fiji and she still gets frustrated and annoyed by her lack of independence at times. It's OK to let it get you down from time to time, but try not to let it keep you down.
posted by wwax at 9:03 AM on February 24, 2014

Sounds like you are up against many barriers. Regular exercise helps me cope with being stuck in winter — I swim year round. In my town, there's a fund that helps people with disabilities get access to community recreation resources — some people use the stipend to pay for taxis. I love the swimming, and I have made good friends in the locker rooms and in the lobby.

I'm a transit user (paratransit in winter and for first time trips). I've learned a lot about paratransit and I'd be happy to email if you want to discuss COTA Mainstream eligibility or use (replace spaces in my username with periods and send it to

You mentioned that voc rehab wasn't much help. Have you worked with your local Center for Independent Living, MOBILE? CILs are run by and for people with disabilities. "Peer support" is part of all CIL programming. They could connect you with someone else who's faced these barriers, found a way through, and wants to help you succeed. MOBILE's confusing contact form here or their Facebook page here. MOBILE would know about recreation stipends.

There are physical or social activities that come with transportation. Square dancing, martial arts, contact improv all require a significant number of people at one time. Use a taxi to attend the first, maybe second meeting. Speak with the leader privately. Ask the leader's help connecting with people who live in your part of town, and spreading the favor around.

Our society is so car-oriented, that those of us who don't drive can feel like there's something wrong with us. I often have to push back against the feeling that asking for a ride is imposing a terrible burden. It's just a favor. I'm sure there are skills you have, favors you can offer in return.

I'll go against the grain and ask: have you explored online communities? I've met many people on the spectrum online. Kasianne has links to many more at her blog

Best wishes!
posted by Jesse the K at 5:05 PM on February 24, 2014

I have visual problems very similar to yours and cannot drive (and even worse, I was the family driver for decades , so was used to my independence). We had to leave residential area of big US city (and in our case the country) partially in order for me to have a life independent of my husband driving me everywhere. We now live in what is considered a suburban area of a big European city, but unlike US suburbs, it is busy, walkable, has excellent transport, and we are much happier.

If you can find a walkable place with better transport you might be too. You have my sympathy as I found US to be a very tough place without being able to drive, but presumably there are better places for transport than where you are now and I hope you can find one. Can you save and move sometime in the future?
posted by claptrap at 3:31 AM on February 25, 2014

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