Adventures in Accessibility on Lima’s Transit System

By Kristen Salkas, MS

During the month of September I was honored to work with the Ann Sullivan Center in Lima, Peru. The Ann Sullivan Center, named after Helen Keller’s teacher and advocate, is an education center for people with disabilities and their families. Over 200 families from all parts of Lima travel here to participate in the center’s activities and receive educational trainings. It is actually a really impressive place!

In Peru, many of the therapies that families in the US take for granted are not available. Even basic health care is out of reach for so many families. Then you think about accessible transportation, and supported employment environments, and special education? Forget about it! These things might be out-of-reach for families in Peru, but the Ann Sullivan Center’s motto is, “making the impossible possible.” And they do just that.

At Ann Sullivan, I acted as a consult on issues related to transportation and community safety. The transportation system in Lima is very different than Chicago! First, almost all of their transportation is privatized. Only one bus service is supported by public funding. This means that there are many different types of transit— combis, custers, corredores, microbuses, trains, and mototaxis—that work in many different and not always complementary ways.

Second, only two of these forms of transportation— the train and the corredor bus — are accessible to people who use wheelchairs or who are Deaf or blind. This means that many of the students who attend the Ann Sullivan center cannot utilize public transportation to get to the center.

On top of these issues, the traffic in Lima is… busy! Let’s just say, I will no longer complain about getting stuck on the Kennedy during rush hour, or complain about the bus drivers here stopping fast for a quick red light. The traffic in Lima is the busiest I’ve ever seen. More cars makes it harder for public transportation to get to where they’re going, and it also makes it dangerous for pedestrians to travel. Street crossing and community safety skills were two skills I teach customers in my RTA outreach presentations that I also taught to the teachers at the Ann Sullivan Center to pass onto their students. These skills are even more vital in the hustle and bustle of Lima.

At the center, I also developed a survey of how families and people with disabilities arrive to there each day. Given the complexities of the public transit system, it’s not a surprise that most people arrived by private transportation services — family vehicles, hired drivers, and ride share. Of course these services cost more money, but they are safer, accessible, and take a lot less time than navigating the transit system in Lima. It was a good opportunity to count my blessings for the safe, affordable, and efficient transit system we have in Chicago.

Overall, it was a wonderful learning experience to be working with a whole new transit system. I am grateful for the accessibility and organization of our transit systems here in Chicago, but I would love to go back to Lima to enjoy the food, the pisco sours, and the beautiful views!

About Kristen

Kristen Salkas is the Mobility Outreach Coordinator for Will County and Southern Cook County. She has been at the RTA for six years. Before joining the RTA, she worked as a researcher for people with intellectual disabilities. She is a Spanish-speaker and advocates for Latinos in Chicagoland to utilize public transportation services. Kristen is currently completing her doctoral dissertation project on a topic close to her heart and her work: transportation for Latinos with disabilities.