Often people who are blind or visually impaired have to rely on others or paratransit to get around. However, many people in the blind community want to learn how to travel independently, but there is a lack of Orientation & Mobility (O&M) trainers available to meet all of the community’s needs. Fortunately, the RTA’s O&M Travel Training program provides a resource to teach people who are blind or visually impaired how to use Metra, CTA and Pace rather than solely relying on others or ADA paratransit as their only option to travel in their communities. Trainees learn how to ride buses and trains, pay for fares, reload fare cards, and utilize trip-planning resources and community safety skills.
To get more in-depth look at the training program we sat down with Kelly Krispinsky, RTA’s Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist, to learn about her work with the disability community.
RTA: Thanks for speaking with us Kelly. Can you tell us a little about your background? How did you get your start?
Kelly Krispinksy: I love teaching and working with people with disabilities, but I knew being within the walls of a classroom was not the setting for me. With my bachelor’s degree in special education, I applied for the O&M program at Ohio State University and began working on my graduate degree. I got an internship in Phoenix where I worked with adults with visual impairments in a vocational rehabilitation setting. I taught people how to navigate their environment to access jobs and other places in the community using public transportation.
After graduating with my master’s, I began working in central Ohio schools as an O&M but wanted to be back working with adults in a city where I could have better access to public transit. I found the opening for the O&M as part of the RTA Travel Training program and knew it was exactly the type of work I wanted.
RTA: What do you enjoy about your work as an O&M Specialist?
KK: I have the opportunity to meet so many people with different backgrounds, stories and cultures who all share the same commonality of living with a disability, more specifically functioning in a sighted world. I enjoy learning about each of their situations and getting to know my trainees personally to be able to help them achieve more than just learning a route using public transit, but also to feel a sense of accomplishment and gain independence.
One great person I’ve worked with is a man named Vincente. He is such a cool guy! He is training for a marathon, bilingual, moved to Chicago by himself without friends or family and is totally blind. To say that he’s faced some adversity is an understatement, but he works hard to learn new travel skills and now rides the bus independently to access places throughout the community. In fact, during lessons he teaches me Spanish while I teach him mobility skills. It’s a win, win for both of us. He’s already gone through the program twice and is ready to learn more.
RTA: What continues to motivate you through your career?
KK: I’m completely motivated by my trainees—they’re incredible. The high level of dedication and eagerness to learn motivates me to give back the same level of effort and commitment to teaching O&M skills. When I meet with someone for the first time, I see the potential in what can be accomplished and want to start developing travel goals with the trainee right away. It’s an amazing feeling to be able to work with these people one-on-one to help them discover what they’re capable of and all the places they can go where they may not have been able to before.