All Aboard! Using the Amtrak and Greyhound Websites with a Screen Reader
When making travel plans, there are advantages to taking the bus or train. Though travel time might be longer with these modes of transportation, they often cost less than air travel, and neither requires a security screening.
For this article, I explored planning and purchasing train travel through the Amtrak website, and bus travel through the Greyhound website. I investigated a hypothetical trip from New York City to Washington, D.C. to conduct this assessment, and used Windows XP, Window-Eyes 7.5.1 and Internet Explorer 8 throughout.
The 143 links that appear on Amtrak's homepage are almost all clearly labeled. A sampling of links: "different regions," "special promotions," "passenger discounts." and "Amtrak Vacations." There is a "Special Needs & Accessibility" link that takes you to a page with links including "Service Animals" and "Meal Service for Customers with Disabilities."
The Amtrak homepage includes forms for choosing travel dates, travel times, and the type of ticket you want to purchase. From the homepage you may also click a link to create an account, a step that can be useful if you plan on traveling with Amtrak more than once. The account registration form consists of combo and edit boxes. Most of the form controls automatically speak, but a few will require that you hit Shift + Tab and then Tab again in order to hear them. Another option is to turn browse mode on just to see what the form says, and then turn it off to fill out the form.
Planning Your Trip
The first decision to make is weather you want a one-way or round-trip ticket. This choice is made through two radio buttons. Next you enter your departure and arrival points via two edit boxes. Unless you already know the Amtrak station codes associated with your arrival and departure points, you will need to look them up using the "find a station" link. You can search for your station by state, province, or the first letter of the city name.
You enter the departure date via links: tab to the date of your departure and hit Enter. That date will now be entered in the departure edit box. The next control is a combo box for departure time. Options include specific hours or general times of day (e.g., "morning," "evening," or "anytime"). You repeat this process for the return trip.
The next controls are three combo boxes to indicate the number of adults, children, and infants for whom you are purchasing tickets. Once all of this information is entered, you activate the "Find Tickets" button. When the new page loads, the information you entered will be displayed along with a list of available trains based on your indicated departure time. To locate the selections use your screen reader's Find command and look for the text, "Select Depart Train," under which you'll find your departure date, and pricing and trip duration information. Below that information is a combo box where you can choose to have your results sorted by price, duration, or departure time. Next is a combo box to choose the type of train.
Below the train combo box are your results. Each result contains the train number and price followed by the departure station, date, and departure and arrival times. Next you'll find the trip duration and amenities (WiFi, snack car, etc.) information. A radio button selects the seat type. An "add to cart" button is on the top of each entry; use it to make your selection, then repeat the process for your return trip.
Once the selections are added to your cart, it's time to check out. The first page of the check-out form is straightforward, though instead of a continue button it says, "Enter Passenger Information." On the next page you choose, via radio buttons, how you want to get your tickets, then enter information about each passenger including name, address, and phone number. The final check-out page is dedicated to payment.
You can contact Amtrak via the first link on the site's homepage, or by calling1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245). There is an option on the phone menu for passengers with special needs. In order to reach it, choose "Something Else" from the first menu of choices, then choose "Passengers with Special Needs." After you hear what services Amtrak provides, you can ask to talk to an agent.
I spoke to several Amtrak agents to determine what assistance I could get regarding getting to the train and getting from the train to a taxi. I got several different answers, but most agents said that Amtrak can put a "Meet and Assist" note in my reservation. A few of the agents did not even mention this service, so check when you make your reservations. The agents all said that the staff on board can help me with my bag, show where things are located such as my seat and the bathroom. All agents were courteous and my wait time was never more than a minute.
Discounted Train Fares
Amtrak gives a 15% discount for passengers with disabilities. In order to get this discount, you must book your reservation with an Amtrak agent. Documentation of your disability must be presented when boarding the train. Acceptable documentation includes a transit system I.D. or a note from your doctor.
The Bottom Line: Amtrak
The Amtrak website tends to have many links and forms on all of its pages, but once you learn where information is located, the site is manageable. That said, I thought it might be helpful to use the site to research travel options and investigate train times and prices, it's actually better to book your reservation directly with an Amtrak agent.
Greyhound's homepage displays 127 links, not all of which are labeled. Some of the labeled links are "deals and discounts" and "services & routes." There is a link for "Customers with Disabilities" which leads to several other pages that discuss service animals and the types of assistance Greyhound provides.
Frequent Rider Program
Greyhound does not offer a discount to passengers with disabilities, but it does provide a Road Rewards program where you can earn points and get reduced fares. Most of the registration form is straightforward. Near the end of the form are sets of radio buttons that require that you take your screen reader out of browse mode to identify. Questions about race, employment and how often you ride Greyhound are asked, but answers are not required to register for the program.
Planning Your Trip
The first form controls are radio buttons for identifying whether you want a one-way or round-trip ticket. Next you enter your departure and arrival cities. You can type the name of your departure city, then use the mouse keys to find out if there are multiple options from that location. If there are, left clicking on an option will enter it in the edit box. You could also use the "Station Locater" link, which will display all the Greyhound stations for a selected state. Once you've found your stations, you can enter them into the appropriate edit boxes. It's easier to get the station names prior to filling out the form if you use the Station Locater.
Next, you indicate how many adults, seniors and children will be traveling. The easiest way to do this is to enter the number directly into the respective edit boxes. For some reason, the edit box for children is nine tabs away from the other two boxes.
The easiest way to enter the date of travel is to follow the sample format that is already located in the edit box. You could take your screen reader out of browse or forms mode and look for the calendar numbers, but I found that to be more cumbersome than just following the sample.
After entering the departure date, the next box calls for the departure time. To get the schedule, turn off browse or forms mode and activate the "Time View Pop Up" link. You can find the results by searching for the "Customers with Disabilities" link. Under that link is the word "Time" and under that is the list of scheduled times. Hit Enter on the one you want, but keep in mind that these are only approximate times. Next click the "Search Schedule" link, which will give you specific times and rates. The form can be confusing because it has table headings followed by information for each bus, instead of providing the headings for each individual bus. There are discounts if you choose to book your fare online. When you search for a return trip, you might find the word "included" on the price. This means that the fare you chose when you made your departure choice includes your return trip. Once you have made your selections, activate the "Continue" link.
The first controls on the check-out form are radio buttons for how you will pay for your tickets and a form for your zip code. When the next page loads, you are presented with a list of stores where you can get your tickets or you can choose to print your tickets at home. The rest of the check-out form uses standard form controls.
The general number for fares and schedules is (800) 231-2222.There is a special number for Greyhound customers with disabilities: (800) 752-4841. I spoke to several agents. My wait time was minimal and the agents were courteous. They all said that Greyhound can help me with my bag and give me priority seating as well as early boarding. Several agents mentioned that they are not allowed to touch passengers.
The Bottom Line
The Greyhound website can easily tax your patience. There is a lot of information on every page and I found that links and controls didn't always work the first time I activated them. My recommendation is to give the site a try if you wish, but if it's too hard to manipulate, call Greyhound, explain that their website is not easy to use, and ask for the same fare that you would have gotten if you booked your trip online.
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