Future Reflections Convention Issue 2013
by Steve Hastalis
From the Editor: Steve Hastalis has been a dedicated railroad buff since childhood. For thirty-five years he was employed by the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). In this article he describes a presentation he gave as part of the Youth Track for tweens and teens during national convention.
I grew up in Chicago, and I have had experience with railroads all my life. As a blind person who would never drive, I understood from earliest childhood that mass transit and intercity passenger transportation would provide me with independence and freedom of movement. My mother and many mobility instructors promoted positive attitudes about city life, independent travel, and the workings of mass transit. I have always enjoyed playing with model railroads, and such play has shown me much about how real railroads work. I want to pass along these positive concepts to the young people coming up through the National Federation of the Blind today.
On Thursday evening, July 4, at our national convention in Orlando, Florida, a group of middle- and high-school students in the Federation's Youth Track Program joined me for an enjoyable and instructive session. We began by introducing ourselves and describing the communities where we live. Significantly, all of the attendees came from small communities with little if any public transportation and no passenger train service. Several participants were the sighted brothers and sisters of blind youth. They had used sleepshades and tried cane travel during the Cane Walk earlier in the convention.
I described operations on Chicago's elevated and commuter trains. When I played recordings of train sounds, someone remarked excitedly, "There's the locomotive!"
I invited the students to examine HO scale tracks (a small, fairly common scale used in model railroads) on a board, including an intersection and switches. I showed them models of commuter train cars and a locomotive, and explained how they fit on the rails. The students gathered around and eagerly examined the equipment. They really enjoyed playing with the model railroad. In the course of all this activity, someone exclaimed, "The train derailed!"
As we wound down, I told one girl that I did not use a cane until I was twelve. She asked me why not, sounding very troubled. She asked me how I got around. I told her that I had many difficult and frustrating moments. I asked her when she started to use a cane, and she told me she was four or five years old. I replied that she demonstrates the progress we have made in the National Federation of the Blind.