President’s Message: Riding the Rails

by Kim Charlson

Recently, I had an opportunity to do something that I haven’t done for almost 20 years – ride Amtrak. This seemed so odd to me because I live outside Boston, the city with the nation’s second largest train station. Most of my travels are usually by air or locally with public transportation or taxi. So it was refreshing to be reintroduced to what Amtrak has to offer.
I traveled to New York City to speak on behalf of ACB at the Baruch College Computer Center for Visually Impaired People 8th Annual Conference on Visual Impairment and Employment, Policy and Practice. The conference was well attended, with over 300 participants, and had an outstanding program with excellent and informative speakers. I discussed ACB’s work in the area of structured negotiation settlements with pharmaceutical chains with regard to accessible prescription drug label information. I was able to share much information about ACB’s work with Walmart, CVS Health and Walgreens.
Traveling by train was a different experience for me. The train was on time, and the assistance I received from station redcaps in handling my luggage and getting to the correct track and train was extremely helpful. My seat was roomy, and the train had wireless for those of us who like to stay connected, as well as power jacks right at my seat. The club car was nearby as well for those who needed refreshments during a trip.
In preparing for my trip, I did some research and learned quite a bit about Amtrak’s offerings. Amtrak offers a 15% rail fare discount to adult passengers with a disability and up to one traveling companion. You need to provide some kind of documentation of your disability at the ticket counter or when boarding the train. I wasn’t asked to show anything specific, but I do travel with a Seeing Eye dog, so that was probably sufficient. Acceptable documentation includes: transit system ID card for persons with a disability; letter from a physician; Veterans Administration ID; or disabled/accessible parking placard issued by a state Department of Motor Vehicles (photocopy is acceptable).
Amtrak makes it easy to purchase tickets for passengers with a disability by offering several booking options:

  • Online: Reservations for one-way and round-trip train travel can be made on for passengers who are blind or have low vision and up to one adult companion.
  • By telephone: Call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245). Agents are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • At an Amtrak ticket counter: Ticket agents at staffed stations are available to sell tickets during regular ticket office hours.

ACB has a representative on the 24-member Amtrak Customer Advisory Committee. Berl Colley, ACB board member from Lacey, Wash., has served on this group and its subcommittee for people with disabilities and seniors for several years. Berl will continue to represent ACB until his term expires in September 2016. If you, or someone you know, is interested in rail travel, has some experience in advocacy in this area, and would like to be considered to represent ACB in the future, please let me know.
If you haven’t given Amtrak a try, I strongly recommend you step out and try riding the rails. You won’t be sorry!