Tuesday, January 31, 2017

MATAplus Phone Games

MATA paratransit makes riders wait just to leave a voicemail

MATA operator and bus
There is a disturbing practice at MATAplus that keeps people from getting assistance on the phone. For the paratransit system in Memphis, the phone is the primary way to make reservations and to cancel a ride. Often, riders will call only to be on hold and following a long wait, the call is put to voicemail. The system will tell you how many callers are in line ahead of you, but when you wait to reach the end, your call is not answered and you are dumped to voicemail.

“I have called MATAplus only to be put on hold in the queue for at least 10 minutes,” said Bobbie Fields of the Memphis Center for Independent Living, “then sent to voicemail when I was number one. I would like to see every rider who has experienced this to file a complaint against MATAplus.”

Paratransit riders who call often must speak to an operator and cannot just “leave a voicemail.” The experience of riders also shows that leaving a message or using the “chat” system do not ensure that MATA will get the message and respond. There is no way to negotiate additional times even if the message if left on the MATA system.

“On Sunday, January 1, I called MATA at 7:30 AM to cancel my rides for the day,” explained Janice Craven, a MATAplus rider. “The first ride was scheduled for 10:AM. I left a message and requested a call back to let me know the message was received. I called again at 8:45, stating the same information and saying this was my second call and second message. At 10:AM, a MATAplus Operator was in front of my house calling to ask if I still needed my ride for that day. I told them I had left 2 messages to cancel all my rides for the day.”

But the annoying issue with MATA is that the problem is not accurately reported. MATA administration says they answer calls quickly and the wait time is minimal. Of course, many patrons must wait, hang-up and call back. Realistically the wait time for the MATA customer is about twice as long, yet the phone system only reports the answer time and the wait time for each call. 

In November of 2016, MATA reported that they had 554 abandon MATAplus calls, 397 calls over three minutes and that 92 percent of the calls were answered. MATA administration did not report the total number of calls. MATA reported that the average wait time of a call to MATAplus was one minute and 18 seconds. Riders do not feel that the MATA Monthly Operation STAC Report is accurate about the phone system or the on-time performance. MATA has not produced the report since November 2016 when MCIL had questioned the validity of the numbers.
Bobbie Fields of MCIL

“All I know is my frustration is stifling like the heat on a summer day in Memphis,” said Allison Donald the new chairperson for the Specialized Transportation Advisory Committee at MATA. “I am sitting here watching the clock.  I am unsure whether the frustration will subside when I find that little piece of shade that arrives when my bus finally shows up. Will this be temporary relief like that glass of grandma’s sweet tea; or will I be left wanting more when I am still on the bus an hour and a half after my pick up?  I have tried everything but much like the Memphis heat MATAplus is insufferable.  I have come to realize that those individuals who want to pacify this issue of the poor service that is provided by MATAplus could not endure the heat that riders have to.”

Clift Notes

Let your voice be heard

Christina Clift

By Christina Clift
January 2017 has been a busy month for the Memphis chapter of the National Federation of the Blind.  Below you will find some of the highlights of our activities.  If you are interested in attending one of our meetings or finding out more about the National Federation of the Blind call (901) 213-6270 or e-mail us at Memphis@nfb-tn.org.

Perhaps one of the most important projects our chapter is working on is hosting the state convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Tennessee.  Our state convention will be held from March 31 through April 2 at the Crown Plaza hotel located at 300 North Second Street.  Registration is $10.00.  

During the convention attendees may browse through the Exhibit Hall and learn about local resources and new assistive technology, mingle with guide dog users, successful blind merchants, or blind students during their annual division meetings.  Attendees may dine with us during our Saturday evening banquet, get fit during our sports and fitness seminar, and learn about the issues that the National Federation of the Blind has been working on over the last year.

Finally, each person who registers and attends the convention is eligible for awesome door prizes including, gift cards, great gift bags, and cold hard cash.  You can also stop by our hospitality suite and meet our chapter and division presidents as well as our board of directors, all while getting a quick snack.

Another project that we are working on is planning our annual Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) Academy, which is scheduled to take place from June 12-23, 2017 at the Memphis Center for Independent Living.  This will be the fifth year for our BELL Academy and we are currently accepting applications.  The Memphis NFB BELL Academy is a two-week program for children who are blind or have low-vision from 4 to 14 years of age. The Academy is designed to teach reading and writing Braille, using nonvisual techniques, using assistive technology, and cane travel in a fun-filled hands-on environment. 

The BELL Academy week will start on Monday morning with a meet and greet and end on Friday, June 23rd with a seminar for parents. Throughout the two weeks, participants will be exposed to science, life skills, sports and recreational opportunities and learn how to live from other successful blind adults the lives the youth want to live. Participants will also go on two field trips that will use the skills they learn during the NFB BELL Academy, all while having fun out in the community.

BELL students at MCIL
If you are interested in volunteering or know a child who could benefit from this great program, the local NFB would love to talk with you.  Our second BELL Academy site is located in Clarksville and will take place on the campus of Austen Peay State University from June 11-17, 2017.  The Clarksville BELL Academy is a one-week residential program.  For more information look us up on Facebook at “Nfb-Tn Bell Academy” or visit our frequently asked questions page at http://www.nfb.org/bell and click on the link for participating states and then select Tennessee.  You can also e-mail us at bellacademy@nfb-tn.org or by telephone at (901) 877-4549.

Next, members of the NFB of Tennessee traveled to Washington D.C. to attend a Washington Seminar.  This year’s legislative issues centered on advocating for information and materials in accessible formats for blind individuals.  The legislation that we asked our Tennessee legislators to support include the Access Technology Affordability Act, The Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education, and The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled.  

NFB Tennessee also asked for our legislators to continue funding programs at the Library of Congress which provides books in a variety of formats for the blind and physically disabled. Stay tuned over the next few months for updates on these important pieces of legislation. 

“It’s important now more than ever to stay abreast of what is going on in Washington,” said Craig McFarland, the first vice president of the Memphis NFB chapter “and to let your voice be heard on issues that impact your life.” 

Finally, during the January meeting of the Memphis Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), elections were held as set forth in our constitution.  The result is as follows: Christina Clift, President, Craig McFarland, First Vice President, Calvin Poole, Second Vice President, and Deborah Carter, secretary.  Since no member wanted to run for the office of the treasurer, the duties have once again been assigned to our first vice president.  Two board positions were also filled by Geraldine Parker and June Mangum.  

On February 6, 2017, the board of the Memphis chapter will participate in their annual strategic planning meeting in which they will discuss strengths and weaknesses, member recruitment, retention, and engagement, fundraising, and outreach, as well as their goals for the next two years.  Until next time, as always go and “live the life you want.” 
Tennessee N F B officers

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Memphis Accessibility Diary

Nothing About Us Without Us

Allison Donald
By Allison Donald, The Memphis Accessibility Diary for January 2017
The City of Memphis has launched the Memphis 3.0 comprehensive plan, the city’s first comprehensive planning effort since 1981.  Memphis 3.0 will be structured around four pillars: connectivity, livability, sustainability, and opportunity.  The Memphis Center for Independent Living as well the disability community plan on being involved in the development and growth of this city as we move into the third century.

Individuals with disabilities in Memphis lag behind in the areas of transportation, affordable accessible integrated housing, and the lack of employment opportunities.  It is important that we are engaged and active in this process for two reasons. 

First, as a community, we do not want to be the last to find out about certain projects that affect our way of life. Why does the disability community complain about the lack of access? Because before the street, park or business was made inaccessible, the planners left us out and forgot about people with disabilities. NOTHING about us, without us. Second, these committees are often comprised of individuals who do not have a disability and may not understand the importance of curb cuts, automatic doors, audible traffic lights, lowered counters and other accessible features throughout the community.

If you would like to join the conversation and ensure that Memphis is an inclusive and diverse city as possible go to www.memphis3point0.com for more information on time, dates, and locations of meetings. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

January STAC Meeting Report

STAC Goals for 2017

Savanah Morris with Mayor Strickland
By Allison Donald and Bobbie Fields
The January meeting of the Specialized Transportation Advisory Committee began with the introduction of new officers. Allison Donald, of the Memphis Center for Independent Living was elected Chairperson, June Mangum, chosen as Co-chair, and Savannah Morris, was voted in as Secretary.  LaBarbra Houston and Glenda Wade of MATA also attended the meeting with STAC members Rexcey Bowers, Russell Jones, Bobbie Fields, Christina Clift, and William Bass.

STAC is outlining its goals for this year and will continue to discuss goals at the February meeting. The first thing that STAC hopes to accomplish is a sit down meeting with the General Manager of MATA Ron Garrison.  STAC also has asked that a person with a disability serve on the MATA Board of Directors and the committee is going to educate riders about alternate modes of transportation. 

STAC wants to partner with MATAplus to include conditional eligibility in the recertification process.  Additionally, STAC and MATAplus this year will reintroduce its riders to the travel-training program. MATA offers travel training for people with disabilities to learn to use the fixed-route buses.

STAC is also looking for new members.  To be a STAC member you must be a MATAplus rider.  If you are interested in becoming a member please contact Ms. Bobbie Fields at bobbie@mcil.org. If you would like to attend a STAC meeting your next opportunity will be February 3rd at 2:00 pm at CafĂ© Eclectic.

MATAplus Operator