Rockale ‘Rocky’ Wiggins has never been able to talk, but that hasn’t prevented him from communicating with those around him with his massive and infectious smile.
At dinner, he couples the smile with raucous laughter that at times poses a challenge for the mashed potatoes and green beans trying to go down.
“You can’t stop him for laughing for nothing,” says Sharon Milton, Wiggins’ guardian and aunt. “Even during the middle of the night he gets to laughing. Even last night about 11 o’clock, I heard a noise and was like, ‘Is that Rocky?’”
Sometimes, she has to calm him down so he doesn’t choke.
Wiggins, 37, was born mentally disabled and with severe chronic scoliosis, which has left his limbs atrophied.
He spends his time listening to music, watching television — especially when Tyler Perry movies come on — and going to his day program.
To get anywhere, though, his sophisticated wheelchair must go, too — and it’s much too big to fit in a regular car.
For anything other than walks around their Florida City neighborhood, Milton must call the Special Transportation Services, STS, for rides. It’s a shared ride service for people with physical or cognitive disabilities.
Monday through Friday, STS picks Wiggins up from his house around 8:30 in the morning and drops him off after his day program ends. Milton says STS is great for those regularly scheduled pickups. Outside of that, though, the service has some big drawbacks.
“Like for his doctor’s appointment, I have to give them a time when they can pick him up and maybe he’s finished at the doctor a whole hour and a half before that, so we sit outside waiting for STS two hours, two hours and a half,” says Milton.
Milton’s story is nothing out of the usual. Lots of people who take STS say it’s often late and can take extraordinarily long to get to the drop-off site.
“Absolutely, there have been times I called for a ride and I had to wait quite a while,” recalls Virginia Jacko, president and CEO of Miami Lighthouse for the Blind.
She no longer takes STS regularly because she gets to the office more efficiently riding with a colleague.
“[STS has] to get from point A to point B to point C to point D with four people in the vehicle,” Jack explains, “…and that means that the person needing to go from point A to point D is going to probably have a few stops on the way and that’s just how it is.”
Despite these inconveniences, she says, it’s really important that people, blind and otherwise, get out and about. And STS can provide that to a point.
STS is not a taxi service though, says Hugh Chen, deputy director of operations for Miami-Dade Transit.
“If [your transportation need is] spur of the moment, then there are taxis, and we’re just not set up for providing on-demand-type service,” Chen explains. “That becomes a taxi service.”
For Sharon Milton, that means her only other option for getting Rocky to places like church without having to leave early or be late, is to drive Wiggins in her car, which is not properly equipped to secure Wiggins if they were to get in an accident.
“A car seat will let me be able to let him sit up and, most important, is the safety because the way his body is, he needs that for protection,” says Milton, adding that it would help Wiggins to sit up and look out the window, something he enjoys.
Through the Miami Herald’s Wish Book, she hopes that for this Christmas, the community can help her get Wiggins a car seat so she can drive him around safely — on their own time. She is also asking for a special stroller so that she can go places and get Wiggins out of the car. They can’t fit his current wheelchair in the car, so he stays in the car anytime they go out.
“He enjoys the sightseeing, the people, even going to the park looking at the ducks,” Milton says. “I want to be able to get him out to feed the ducks, to go into the mall and do different stuff like that, not just with STS, but as a family.”
Among the places to visit on the bucket list: Disney World, sports games and the mall.
How to help
Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year.
▪ To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook
▪ To give via your mobile phone, text WISH to 41444
▪ For information, call 305-376-2906 or email wishbook@MiamiHerald.com
▪ Most requested items: laptops and tablets for school, furniture, accessible vans
Read more at Miami Herald.com/wishbook