New Mexico State University student Letticia Martinez relies on her mother to take her to and from campus and their Radium Springs home. She plans extra time to walk from one class to the next, giving herself and her guide dog, Philly, wiggle room in case they get lost on the sprawling campus. Legally blind, Martinez cannot drive herself home between classes, so she often camps out at Corbett Center until her mother picks her up at the end of the day.
All that will change this fall when the Associated Students of NMSU launches Aggie ParaTransit.
The pilot program will bus main campus students with permanent or temporary physical disabilities to and from their homes and between classes for free.
"There are a lot of people who have disabilities, who have walkers or wheelchairs, and it just takes them a lot longer to get to class," Martinez, 18, said. "... I feel like having Aggie ParaTransit will help those people get to class so they don't worry about it."
She will use the service too, she said.
Martinez spent years as a child training to navigate crowds, get on the bus alone and maneuver through a community. Such transportation challenges may force many students with disabilities to forego campus activities or events, Martinez's mother, Lila Martinez, said.
Aggie ParaTransit will improve the quality of life for those students, Lila Martinez said.
"When you're thinking about inclusive, sometimes transportation is one of the biggest components that will connect those circles," she said.
Aggie ParaTransit riders must qualify as disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Students can apply for the program through the city's RoadRunner Transit, which will operate the curb-to-curb bus service.
Students who qualify for the service could have a range of disabilities, from blindness to mobility disabilities to a broken leg to heart problems, said Gerard Nevarez, executive director of NMSU's Office of Institutional Equity.
Nevarez said it is difficult to know how many students on campus have physical disabilities, as students are not required to report them to the university. A handful of students have requested a bus service over the years, he said.
"We have some idea that there is a need, but we don't fully understand it," said Ophelia Watkins, NMSU's director of transportation and parking. "... If they need the service in the city, we assume they need it on campus as well."
The city's Dial-A-Ride will take students to and from campus, but it doesn't take them from class to class as Aggie ParaTransit will, Watkins said.
"That's the gap we're trying to fill," she said.
Aggie ParaTransit was one of ASNMSU President Wes Jackson's campaign platforms. He helped coordinate the effort with Nevarez last school year.
"As a student government, we should want to help those who need our help the most," Jackson said.
The pilot program is fully funded by students. ASNMSU's Aggie Transit account earmarked $5,000 to $8,000 for the pilot, he said.
At the end of the year, student officials will assess whether it was successful and should be renewed, he said. Jackson said he would consider Aggie ParaTransit a success if 30 or so students used the service.
Such a program is not required by federal law, Nevarez said. "We're trying to go beyond" the requirements, he said.
Students interested in Aggie Para-Transit can contact the city of Las Cruces Dial-A-Ride at 575-541-2777 for more information on qualifications.
Lindsey Anderson can be reached at 575-541-5462.
Copyright 2014 - Las Cruces Sun-News, N.M.