Terra, Sarah, Avyllia and Serinady came to the KCATA as students wanting to learn how to ride a bus. They left as teachers of life.
With caution in their steps and courage in their heart, the four visually-impaired students navigated the 23,000-pound, 30-foot long bus and the potential pitfalls it presents to anyone with limited sight.
They were undaunted. “I am very excited. I thought this would be so cool,” said Sarah Coccovizzo, an eighth-grade student at Eastgate Middle School in North Kansas City.
KCATA Chief Executive Officer Robbie Makinen coaxed the students along, relating his struggles with his own disability.
Offering up a pep talk at the start, Makinen explained how he lost his sight four years ago and how he still battles to overcome the challenges of lost vision. “You guys are way ahead of me.”
He asked the students to guide him as they gingerly probed the bus, using their senses of touch and hearing to get feel for what they faced. “I want to know what you’re doing so I understand how this works,” Makinen told the students.
So, the lesson began. The students touched the headlights. They poked their fingers into the grate housing the engine. They ran their fingers along the outside of the windows. The slid their hands inside in the wheel well. They toyed with the bike rack. They listened to various sounds of the bus. They learned how to swipe a pass.
When they were done and seated onboard, Serinady Underhill, Avyllia David and Terra Coccovizzo and her sister, Sarah, went for a bus ride in the neighborhoods near the KCATA’s offices.
Talk and laughter quickly filled the bus as the students set out on their adventure. “Where are we going?” one excited student asked. “Nebraska – or around the block,” came the response. “Cool,” the student said. The talk quickly turned to jokes. “What do you give a sick bird?” Sarah asked. The answer was obvious. “A tweatment.”
As it turned out, the trip ended at McDonald’s where Makinen treated Terra, Sarah, Avyllia and Serinady to snacks, including chocolate and strawberry shakes. As they munched on fries, Makinen leaned in as he tried to learn what he could do to adjust to life without site.
“What is that I can do to get better at this?” he asked.
Avyllia, a fourth-grader at Clardy Elementary School, suggested competing in the Braille Challenge. Makinen conceded he’d have a lot of work to do. “I would lose.”
Makinen shared with the students how technology helps him read, explaining how his iPhone reads emails for him and places a call at his instruction.
“These kids are so strong,” Makinen said. “Their ability to push through, their ability to not let anything get in their way, it’s amazing. I learned just as much from them as they learned here.”
Shortly after the students visited the KCATA, Makinen received an email from one of the instructors on the trip. Avyllia returned to school and told her teacher that the experience learning how to ride a bus inspired her to one day want to own a business.
“The teacher asked her if she would ride the city bus again. And she said, ‘yes, I would take it to the library with some friends.’”
Avyllia’s experience illustrated the students’ fearlessness. “These kids know they can conquer the world,” Makinen said, “and there’s nothing in their way.”
A student gives Robbie Makinen some advice.
Students used their sense of touch to learn about the bus.
A learning experience for CEO Robbie Makinen and the students.