Former Ms. Wheelchair Iowa strives to make a difference in the world of transportation

MM731_2015 Ride Transit Week-01Michele Meadors is no stranger to public transit – as a matter of fact it is her only means of transportation. As a part of Ride Transit Week, Meadors shares her story on how public transportation is a vital resource not only to her, but to the community.

After an automobile crash more than four years ago, Meadors is classified as a C6 incomplete quadriplegic; meaning that she has damage to her sixth vertibrae and does not have range of motion, but still has feeling in her limbs. While many of us go about our day not giving a thought to our methods of transportation, Meadors has to carefully plan out her routes on a day-to-day basis, as well as extensive planning for the trips she takes to speak on behalf of persons with disabilities.  

Michele MeadersRather than be cynical about her situation, she has made it her personal mission to be the voice for those with disabilities. “My goal moving to Des Moines four years ago when I started using public transportation and realized how difficult it was for some people, I vowed to myself to make the public transportation system the absolute best it could be,” she says. After being crowned Ms. Wheelchair Iowa last year, she has since used it as a platform to make a difference. She adds “There are a lot of complainers, but you have to be a solution maker.”

Her journey began after spending 13 months in rehab in Omaha, Neb., where she learned how to use the paratransit system, secure wheelchairs in a bus, get people on and off a bus, and lift operation were part of her training. Going through this training fueled her curiosity about the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART). To get started making a difference, she knew she had to talk to the right people.

Jeremy Johnson Miller, a transit programs administrator in the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Office of Public Transit, suggested that Meadors become a Transit Rider Advisory Council (TRAC) member. Through TRAC, Meadors is able to give feedback directly to transit planners about bus routes, stops, stations, etc. In her four years spent living in Des Moines, Meadors says that she has seen bus route improvements, paratransit running later in the day, and the introduction of a new rider payment system. “I think a positive thing is that the verbiage is out there, and it’s in the process – we are thinking of change. We are moving forward and I think we are really trying to not stay stagnant,” says Meadors.

However, change takes time and there are still many things Meadors would like to see improved. She has realistic goals, such as introducing 24-hour paratransit and wheelchair accessible cab service. Currently, none of the cab services provide wheelchair accommodation in Des Moines. This poses an issue because the alternative is the paratransit bus system that offers limited hours of service, a private nonemergency medical service, or in extreme situations utilizing an ambulance service.

Meadors has worked closely with Iowa DOT employees throughout her time in Iowa. She says, “It gives an opportunity for a little more of a push because you have people who believe in the system. The right people in the right positions can help make things happen a little quicker,” she says. Last year, for the 2014 transportation summit, Meadors was originally unable to go due to limited transportation services. Through a coordination of services by Iowa DOT employees, Meadows was able to attend the summit along with her peers. “It made me know that they are engaged in the example I want to set forth,” she adds.

As far as getting her message through to the public, the key lies in respect. She emphasizes appreciating the transportation system we do have rather than focusing on the negative. “Somebody somewhere has to operate, pay, and drive that. It’s taken for granted. Stop and appreciate it. If you appreciate it, you’re going to want to know how it works and how that money is being spent,” Meadors says.

It goes without saying that Meadors is choosing to use her lifestyle to inspire and change the lives of others. Upon her recent work as a wellness coach at the YMCA, she shared, “I managed to introduce the public transit system to a 15-year-old who has never been on a bus before -- these are the small successes that keep me going.



Hi there,

Firstly, a bunch of thanks for sharing such valuable information with us. Actually, I was doing some research about tranist. And I get landed over your article & it was too informative.

Thank you

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