Wednesday, February 10, 2016

MATA Open House Style is not welcoming to all

Public meeting on service changes fails to include people with disabilities

Map showing Frayser Plaza Connection
By Christina Clift

On Tuesday, February 9, 2016 the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) held the first of three open houses for the public to look at proposed route changes.  The meeting was held at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library from 4:00-8:00 PM.  As a user of both MATA’s fixed route and paratransit system, I wanted to learn more about the proposed changes and discover how they might affect me.  I felt excluded from the process; however, like a person looking in through a window from the outside. 

This feeling of not being included or apart of the meeting was caused by two things.  First, the event was set up in a manner in which I, as a blind person, could not easily navigate or interact.  There were tables covered with printed maps of proposed route changes that I could not see.  I also had difficulty locating who was in charge of the event to request assistance. 
MATA employee leans over the table of mapsDuring my wanderings in the meeting room I sat down next to a gentleman who works for the Department of Human Services Fraud Division and he felt just as confused.  We both were waiting for a presentation to begin or for someone to give us direction on what was going to happen and when we were going to get started.  But there was no presentation.

Second, once I finally located some assistance from a gentleman named Gary, I felt like I was being rushed, that I was causing an imposition on his time, and my issues were unimportant.  So, I didn’t get the answers that I really wanted to know.  I left knowing only a bit more than I started.  I knew that the number two, five, and forty routes were not going to change, but that the 57 and nine would.  I hope that others had a better experience. 

So how can this type of open house public meeting for MATA have been made better?  They could ensure that there is a system in place to handle people who can’t see the maps.  They should be able to answer questions from anxious riders who are possibly being impacted in a patient and friendly manner.  Finally, they should perhaps incorporate a more structured approach in organizing future meetings.  Having someone to ask if you need assistance when you sign in.

Disorganized paper on tables for MATA patrons