Ask Mark Susa, a certified travel trainer under Easter Seal's national Project Action, anything about riding the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) buses - their routes, what their numbers mean, or when the agency first invested in the modern, low-floor buses - and he will explain it all enthusiastically.
Years before, a special educator had predicted that Mark would never remember his own address. Now, if you give him any destination in the entire state, he can tell you how to get there by bus from where you are. He has memorized the phone numbers of the RIPTA dispatcher and their Americans with Disabilities (ADA) coordinator.
Maps have made sense to Mark from his preschool days when he would drive his matchbox cars on a toy map of a town and its green. When he was finally included in a typical classroom in sixth grade, he was thrilled to have geography as one of his subjects. In high school he entered Warwick's first vocational program in travel and tourism. He completed his formal education with an internship at RIPTA, where he learned the doings of every department in sequence. His culminating activity was an independent trip starting from his home in the West Bay area and using multiple modes of transportation to travel through the Providence metropolitan area, around the East Bay crossing at the south point and returning home.
He was successful because he has studied every route on the only statewide public transit system in the entire country. He knows how and where to transfer at each of the bus hubs in the state. He can also teach how to file a complaint, if necessary.
With help from the state's Office of Rehabilitation Services (ORS) and a non-profit board of directors, Mark has established Accessing Community Transportation, Inc. (ACT) to train people with disabilities how to use the buses independently. Susa said, "Since I started working on my own business, I have been asked to be on The Supported Employment Speaker's Bureau, The Warwick Special Education Advisory Committee, The State of Rhode Island Transition Council, The Board of Directors of United Cerebral Palsy, and The Rhode Island Accessible Transportation Advisory Committee. While am doing all of these different things I am learning how to work with people, how to be patient and respectful, and how to achieve goals."
There are many other travel training programs throughout the country. As far as anyone knows, however, ACT was the first peer travel training program, in which the principal trainer has multiple disabilities. Mark Susa is president and CEO of ACT.
All of this background is necessary to convince people that Mark has the requisite abilities to lead another person with a disability through the learning process. The fact that he has multiple disabilities helps dissolve many doubts of individuals or their decision-making family members.