- Associated Press - Saturday, January 2, 2016

HONOLULU (AP) - Donald Sakamoto is well acquainted with the challenges of getting around in a world that is not always accommodating to him.

He stops at crosswalks and listens carefully to the traffic flow. He recalls that he once missed his bus stop while riding TheBus because he could not clearly hear the announcement and wound up walking several blocks back to Straub Clinic and Hospital.

Sakamoto, who is legally blind, describes these challenges as similar to wearing a blindfold - “and you can’t take the blindfold off for any reason.”

Since 2010, Sakamoto has served as chairman of Citizens for a Fair ADA Ride, a volunteer organization that advocates for fair and equal paratransit service for seniors, the blind, and those with physical and mental disabilities. He joined the group in 2009. It consists of about 20 to 25 volunteers who meet quarterly with representatives from Oahu Transit Services and the city Department of Transportation Services.

The Americans with Disabilities Act bans discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications and governmental activities. The ADA also establishes requirements for telecommunications services.

“A lot of people need to get around. They can’t just stay home and depend on others to take them around,” Sakamoto said. “That’s what we really want - transportation for all. We want a fair ride.”

The 53-year-old lifelong Kaneohe resident used the Handi-Van to commute to work at the Marine Corps Exchange for about nine years before retiring in 2009. Before that, Sakamoto often caught rides with his father, a World War II veteran, who died in 2000.

Among the problems Sakamoto has worked to resolve are: better scheduling to avoid hourslong waits for rides; improvements in delivery of announcements on TheBus, particularly so the blind and those with vision impairments are able to get off at the correct stop; and coordinating paratransit service with rail construction to ensure lane closures do not disrupt pickups. He said he is also trying to secure nonprofit status for the advocacy organization.

City Transportation Services Director Mike Formby describes Sakamoto as humble and dedicated.

“I trust Donald, know that he shares our goal to improve the paratransit system and could not imagine a better partner from the paratransit community,” Formby said in an email.

Shirley Sypert, a Citizens for a Fair ADA Ride member, nominated Sakamoto for Heroes Next Door recognition. She admires him for his commitment to helping others.

“To me, he’s my hero because when I was disabled and rode the Handi-Van, there was nobody I could talk to,” said Sypert, who was diagnosed with post-polio syndrome and used a motorized scooter. “It’s nice to know that there’s a leader like Donald who is open to everyone.”

Sakamoto is also a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Hawaii and previously served on the Statewide Independent Living Council of Hawaii for two years.

Regarding the rider benefits of reliable paratransit services, he said, “It gives them independence.” Sakamoto added: “We just want to make sure that everybody gets a fair ride, and the services will improve with the administration. We have to persevere and go forward.”

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Information from: Honolulu Star-Advertiser, https://www.staradvertiser.com

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