Unfolding a wallet, Jay Doudna slips a ticket book from one of its pockets. The tickets are worth a dollar each, but to he and his wife, Elaine Boykin, they represent an almost priceless freedom.
“We can go out to dinner,” he said. “We can go to the doctor.”
Doudna and Boykin are visually impaired and rely on public transportation to get to work and to lead otherwise independent lives. The tickets they tear from the pad are from Oklahoma City’s Share-A-Fare cab service program, which allows them to buy the coupon books at a 40 percent discount from the city.
They can pay for their cab rides using the coupons accepted by two cab services, giving the couple the freedom to move about the city without organizing their lives around a bus schedule.
Programs such as Share-A-Fare are critical to the couple because transportation needs remain the number one issue facing the disabled, Boykin said. A certified vision rehabilitation therapist and programs manager with the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services, Boykin has been an advocate on issues facing the disabled since graduating college in the mid-1970s. She is the current president of the Oklahoma Council of the Blind.
“I have been in this city since 1976, and we are still working on some of the same issues regarding transportation that we have been working on since I moved here,” she said. “The issues include city bus service and the fixed-route system, and fighting to get that system to expand its services late into the evenings and to keep it at a decent price.”
A Pennsylvania transplant, Doudna works as a studio technician at the Oklahoma Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and he too is a former OCB president. He and Boykin have been advocates on issues affecting the disabled for decades — long before they married seven years ago. Doudna said being an advocate on issues that impact one’s life is critical because needed services can disappear if lawmakers believe there is little interest.
“The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” Doudna said. “Whatever it is in your district, it is at risk if you don’t advocate. If you don’t advocate for what you use, you may not have it one day.”
The couple recently won Disability Leadership Awards presented by the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services during Disabilities Awareness Day on April 2 at the state Capitol. Awareness Day gives those with disabilities and their advocates a chance to talk with decision-makers who can preserve or expand services that make a difference in the lives of Oklahomans with disabilities.
Boykin said many lawmakers at all levels of government often have not been exposed to the challenges facing the disabled who are struggling to lead independent lives and pursue careers. They also may not realize that one in six Oklahomans has a disability.
Economics have played a role in making it harder for lawmakers to hear from disabled constituents, especially those living outside Oklahoma City.
Doudna said in the 1960s and 1970s, disabled groups such as the OCB found it easier to rally for their causes because commercial and municipal bus routes were more plentiful; the cost of tickets was reasonable and a motel room could be had for about $20 a night.
Times have changed, but the need for lawmakers to hear from their constituents has not.
“The Legislators generally don’t decide they are going to deny a blind person this and that.” he said. “It might be that they are not even aware of the need. Sometimes they might give us lip service and say ‘they are going to look into an issue.’ But that is the time when we have to be advocates and put the pressure on, making sure they follow through.”
Boykin and Doudna stressed that it is important to take advantage of any chance to meet with lawmakers, especially if you are from a rural district.
“Awareness Day does work,” he said. “It is effective. We don’t always get what we want, but lawmakers see the people. That is critical.”
Brett Jones is with the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services.