a sleeping woman sits on public transportation

Using Public Transportation With Narcolepsy

I recently moved to Portland, Oregon, and am learning how to utilize the public transit services. I own a car but like to utilize public transportation on days when my narcolepsy symptoms are worse than most and I would prefer to let someone else do the driving.

While public transportation makes traveling more accessible for people with narcolepsy in the sense that they don’t have to drive themselves, having narcolepsy also makes it more difficult to utilize these kinds of transportation for many reasons. For example, if I were to fall asleep on the bus and miss my stop, I could set myself back hours and end up even more exhausted at the end of my trip than if I’d just driven myself.

For many people with narcolepsy and other neurological disorders such as seizure disorders, driving just isn’t an option. It is important that our public transit systems are accessible to the very people that need them.

Visual and audible accessibility features

I noticed a few key accessibility features in the public bus system that might be helpful for my narcolepsy. The first thing I noticed was an electric chart showing the stops as they come, in addition to an automatic speaker announcing each stop. This combination of visual and audial information would hopefully help stir a narcoleptic awake as they nodded off into sleep.

In my case, I am also hard-of-hearing, so having visual boards on the bus showing each stop is necessary for me to be able to use the service at all. I was not able to understand what the magic bus voice was saying for most of the trip due to my hearing loss, but I think this feature would be extremely helpful for people with narcolepsy, so they can hear what is happening around them while their eyes are closed.

Taking naps when I can

I know that I personally like to close my eyes and take a short nap whenever I can. It helps to keep me from falling asleep uncontrollably later in the day. It isn’t a “quick fix” by any means, and it can be intimidating to do this in public.

However, it is worth the extra milliliter of energy that it gives me. When you are as short-handed on wakefulness as people with narcolepsy are, you take what you can get!

Paying attention to avoid getting stranded

One thing that I found to be frustrating is that rather than running in a loop system like my university did, circling stop after stop in a specific order, public buses here go one direction or the other on the transit map and do not “circle” through stops.

If I were to fall asleep and miss my stop, I would just have to get off the bus and find a new one rather than wait around on the same bus for it to loop and return to my stop. This means that I have to pay extra attention to avoid getting stranded!

Is public transportation accessible to you? Let us know in the comments!

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