Friday, March 23, 2007

Does BC Victoria Transit hate wheelchairs? Plus: my blood and strip shopping trip.

Wednesday was supposed to be the “good” outing day as I was off to Mayfair Mall in Victoria, B.C. to meet Linda for lunch. I am using very specific names on this blog today because I had very specific and humiliating experiences for one reason only: I was sitting in a wheelchair. And while I may blog about how being in a wheelchair is forcing me to redefine the image I have of myself or am trying to project to others please make no mistake, I am not a wheelchair: I am a person who uses a mobility aid.

Victoria BC Transit offers new wheelchair users a one to one mentor who helps you plan out trips and goes with you if you want. She and I had planned out the easiest way for me to get to Mayfair Mall and back again with one bus transfer. At the appointed time I was at the bus stop nearest my house. And then it started to rain. Rain really sucks when you are in a wheelchair because my rain jacket can’t cover my legs or the cushion or back rest so I am in my jacket, leaning over trying to keep my legs dry as I wait for the bus. It comes, and I get off outside Crystal Gardens instead of continuing to downtown. The reason I got off early is that it is near the start of the bus route I need (#30/31) and I won’t have to compete with all the different people trying to get on and off the buses at the downtown stops (all in accordance with the plan drawn up by my ‘transit mentor’). I sit in the shelter with the other 12 people. The shelter has no walls and with the wind, the rain is hitting us vertically anyway. After 10 minutes my bus, the number 30/31 shows up and I roll toward it. But the bus driver refuses to lower the ramp. “No room” he tells me as the 10 other passengers walk onto the bus. The bus pulls away and I am left sitting there in the rain. A #30/31 bus has three spaces for manual wheelchairs or 2 for electric, I thought I might have seen one electric in that bus, and there is nothing I can do now, so I roll back and watch it drive off. The rain keeps coming down. I am trying to figure out how two passengers with wheelchairs could get on a bus when it has only gone 5 blocks from the start of its run. Later I realize that with the rain, there are many, many strollers (which take up a lot of room). However, as the Victoria BC Transit Website states in the only bold letters on its webpage: Strollers MUST be collapsible. When the wheelchair positions are required by another customer using a wheelchair or scooter: the customer should fold the stroller, move to another available seat and store the stroller between the seats. If you cannot collapse the stroller, you should request a transfer and exit, and take the next bus”

Telling moms that they must fold up their stroller or wait for the next bus is a gigantic pain in the butt for both the driver and the people with strollers. Indeed, it creates a lot of negative feelings and makes the bus run behind schedule. Leaving someone in a wheelchair in the rain however causes none of these problems.

Previously in the week, my father, a Victoria Transit driver, knowing I was making this trip, told me in all his driving years he had only ever left one person in a wheelchair at a stop due to other passengers in wheelchairs being present, but only after notifying a supervisor and the passenger in a wheelchair so that alternative transport was sent or reserved for them. Right now, it is cold and I have another 10 minutes to wait in the rain for the next bus; I’m not happy but that’s life, right? The next #30/31 rolls up and I have closely scanned the inside; there is not a single wheelchair in the bus; it looks like there might be a stroller but no wheelchairs. Alright!

The driver does not even fully come to the curb but as I roll forward, he opens his door and holds out his hand in a “stop” sign. “No room” he says, as a passenger hops on, and before I can speak, he has closed the door and the bus is in motion, up the street, leaving me sitting by the curb in the rain. I am now stuck at this bus stop. My 'mentor' choose this stop because it is flat. But it is also at the bottom of a giant hill leading to downtown. With my heart condition, I cannot wheel up that hill. I also cannot catch the bus which brought me here to take me back home for another hour. I cannot wheel to another bus stop. It has been 20 minutes in the rain and now TWO buses have left only ONE person at this bus stop: the one in the wheelchair. I really want to go home now. Only now do I realize how incredibly helpless I am; only now does it sink in that I will get wet and tired because someone else can’t be bothered and that right now, I have no other options but to continue to wait on the “good will” (or rather when I bought my bus ticket what I assumed was "professional ethics") of the next driver.

Some of this must have shown on my face as a passenger comes to the stop and wants to find out where I am going and convinces me to take their bus, the #50 in five minutes instead of waiting 10 minutes for another #30/31. I do and the driver lets me on. He raises the ramp while I back into position (wheelchairs almost always face the rest of the bus, riding backwards) and I am almost there when the ramp at the front finishes loading back in and the driver, without a word, floors it, taking off up the hill. My wheelchair is not yet in position, nor do I have my locks on. As he speeds up I and the chair are thrown forward and I clamp my hands around the wheels to stop from having my face accelerated into a wall partition. I have to hang on to this grip until he reaches the top of the hill and stops for a light, when I can finally finish backing up and put on the wheelchair brakes (Drivers are supposed to ensure, at least verbally, that wheelchairs are locked before progressing).

I am not amused, indeed I am very, very angry. I am hoping that some mysterious figure in a cloak will appear before me and tell me to “Release your anger! Give in to the dark side and your training will be complete!” because, honestly, being able to pick up objects with my mind and ram them into people’s heads at high speeds (say certain bus driver’s) sounds like a REALLY good idea right now.

I get to Mayfair mall and have some time before Linda arrives so I go shopping. Or should I say I TRY to go shopping as all the clothing stores have added rolling “Sales” racks to so many parts to their store that I am reduced to rolling back and forth in front of a store trying to get the attention of an employee to come and actually move some damn stuff so I can actually shop there (which I assume is the purpose of clothing store...to sell clothes to people). I am still on the lookout for some styling printed top which say something about me like “mournful but really good with knives” or “Girls are skary!” In one store I find four tops to try on and the sales woman takes me to the changing area: there are 10 changing rooms, one of which is specially built for wheelchair customers. When she opens the door, it turns out that the wheelchair changing room has been used for quite some time as the extra storage room and is full of clothing racks, signs and broken junk. She drags out enough stuff so I can get into about 1/3rd of the room (enough for my chair), I get in and ask, “Where is the mirror?”

“Oh, that room doesn’t have one. You’ll have to come out here to look in a mirror.” Okay, a women’s clothing chain with a changing room without a mirror, another first for me. I try on the tops and roll out and while the assistant comes and comments on the other people changing (“that looks really good”, “Do you want another size?”, “I think the blue would look great on you.”), I notice that whenever I emerge, she quickly retreats into the forest of clothing racks. I presume this is because she doesn’t know why I am in the chair and doesn’t want to offend me (“That really hides your hump”), but in the end, by treating me as a social leper, it makes the experience sour enough that by the time I get to the third top I have a “what am I doing here?” moment. I have had enough of this crap: I am changing clothes next to mannequin arms for goodness sakes. I try to leave but of course, have to wait for a sales person to help move some of the displays in order to actually escape the store.

I am so pissed I start rolling really hard, letting my arms do the talking, which isn't so bright as my thumb rolls right under a brake, ripping the skin right off and leaving blood trail. Luckily, I have a bandage. Does pain make me strong...or just feel stupid?

I meet Linda and we go to the one “alternative” t-shirt shop who, unlike the day before is not staffed by intelligent, alternative, wants-to-talk girl but rather surly, “oh my god, there is one of ‘those’ people in my store” girl. She will not help us, she will not answer questions on size. Still I find a couple shirts I like and ask to try them on. She leads us to the “change room” which is a small add on closet. Without looking AT me, she looks at the doorway and then at the wheels of my wheelchair (there is no way it can fit in there) and then, without a word, she turns, walks to the back of the store and disappears into the “employee only” section. Gone! Linda is a little freaked and we both just stare for a few seconds at the door where she disappeared. I look behind me and it is a shallow store with complete floor to ceiling glass; everyone in the mall walking by can see us. Linda wants to leave but then, Linda has not had my day or is still damp from outdoor bus experiences.

“If that’s the way they want it, that’s the way they will get it.” I say and start to strip off my clothes, right there, on the sales floor, nothing visually between me and the people walking by in the mall outside (I do have my back to them). Linda freaks a bit more. “I came here to buy t-shirts,” I say to her, “and I need to try them on.” Do I like that I am forced to strip down in public, on a shop floor while people in the mall are watching me? No. It is humiliating. I do not like being left by the staff with the only choices being that either “maybe someone (something?) like me shouldn’t be shopping there” or that I don’t deserve the same right to body privacy as others. But is it going to stop me? Damn no! I find a shirt I like. I put my clothes back on. It burns to have to PAY the girl who now has magically reappeared to take our money. Where are those “dark side” mental powers when I need them? However I really did like the shirt, and post it up here for your approval (and if you know what is good for you, and don’t want my dark powers making your coffee mug fly into your head, you WILL like it too).

We continue on to a mall stand which sells alternative jewelry but whose owner is giving me what I call the “pet treatment.” I ask her a question like; “Where is a good place to find some alternative clothes?” She turns to Linda and says, “Downtown in Chinatown there is a good place.” Everytime I ask a question, or want to see something, she either gives the answer to Linda (who is standing, so at her eye level) or looks to Linda for APPROVAL for me to see something. Hello! Once again, I have mobility issues: not a slave, not a pet, not being “taken for a walk.”

After trying to go into one more store whose aisles have had so much added on to them that I am unable to even turn around and must back out after an aborted attempt to enter simply the first quarter of the store, I decide to go home. I have had it. In my shopping there was not ONE CLOTHING STORE in Mayfair Mall that I tried to enter in which I could, as an individual, shop or try on clothes in an equal manner as others, much less those stores where even entering and viewing what was on sale was impossible. What really angers me is that this is a form of discrimination which, because it is physical instead of verbal or posted, in so commonplace as to be accepted. If any one of these store had posted a “No Black or Asian customers welcome in this store” sign; there would be a huge article in the paper the next day with letter writing for weeks to come. Yet, by their physical placement policy and the attitudes of staff that this was normal and to expect otherwise was the odd thing (or a store where I might be able to shop on my own without needing assistance) clearly states, “No wheelchair customers welcome here.” (or in the more physical restricted stores: “No wheelchair customers allowed”).

I’d like to say that this was an issue that has bothered me for some time but the truth is, when I was an able bodied duty manager at a retail outlet the first thought I would mentally have when seeing a person with a wheelchair enter the store was “Oh no!” Because I KNEW that the head office had repositioned the aisles to “just” be compliant and THEN piled things in front of the aisles, hung things from the aisles, added bins and sales displays and that this person in a wheelchair was just going to get frustrated and pissed and probably yell at me (hey, I was just following orders, like any good drone; now keep in line as you enter the gas chambers!). I wanted the person in the wheelchair to leave because their very presence in the shop facing such obstacles WE put up showed how little we cared about them. Yes, I was a hypocrite and now, I am telling you, so that you can learn it before, like me, you have to see “Oh geez, here comes a problem” written on the faces of sales managers and staff every time YOU roll towards a store in later life.

Going home on the #30/31 bus was again quite an experience. Though the transit guide said that all buses on that route were wheelchair accessible, the first one to arrive was NOT. Cue everyone getting on and leaving me behind AGAIN. The second one did have space but the driver put down the ramp so close to a brick wall that it was physically impossible for me to make the turn to get on the ramp (also, you begin to notice that some drivers are too lazy to take the time to lower the hydraulics on their bus which makes your ramp the equivalent of rolling up a mini Everest). After three tries and almost crying in frustration, a couple passengers stepped forward and actually lifted me onto the ramp – so all is not lost with humanity. I just wish I did not have to rely on the “kindness of strangers” because that day, it seemed a bit of a hit and miss thing. Of course there was a woman sitting across from me who after staring simply said, “So when where you in a car accident?” (Linda suggested I counter with “So when did you change your underwear”)

I will say that on my transfer bus back home the #3, I was treated like visiting royalty. No driver ever made me feel more welcome or glad that I was on HIS bus. I don’t know if this is what guys mean when they talk about chivalry, but lesbian or not, I could learn to live and appreciate that (particularly on public transit).

The transit story however does not end there as I called Transit customer service and detailed my sitting in the rain while drivers drove off that morning IN DETAIL. However I had reached the “our corporation doesn’t make mistakes” customer service guy who told me things like, “people aren’t required to move from wheelchair seats so a wheelchair can sit there if they don’t want to.” Or “Drivers don’t have to try to make room for a wheelchair if they need to make up time.” His response to being left in the rain: “Drivers need to keep to their schedules.” He told me that a driver can CHOOSE to assess if they have enough room for a wheelchair (but they don’t have to; thus not letting you on), and that if they think there is enough space, the decision of whether to ask people to move and make space for a wheelchair is again up to them (so if they don’t FEEL like it, then they don't have to let you on) and only if everyone wants and chooses to move does the transit driver then let you on. He also had answers (lazy answers) for what I already knew from my father was the proper procedure. Me: Could the driver radio to find out for a passenger in a wheelchair if there is no room how much room the next bus would have? Him: They wouldn’t have that information (from the Victoria Transit page: “If a bus that arrives is not accessible and the schedule indicated a low floor bus, or if the wheelchair and scooter positions are full, the driver will advise you of the next accessible bus.”). Me: Could they notify a supervisor that a passenger in a wheelchair was left behind. Him: No, that would serve no real purpose.

I explained how I was now very reluctant to travel Victoria transit as it seemed that particularly on rainy days, if drivers didn’t want to confront people with strollers that I could be stuck by the road for ANY length of time, up to an hour or more, and that it was “pot luck” whether I got a ride or not. The official representative of Victoria BC Transit Authority on the phone with me agreed. There was no apology, I was not offered or allowed to make a complaint but when I reported the times and numbers of the buses involved, I was told it “would be noted” (I did also make him write down the exemplary service I had received on bus #3 from the driver)

That’s odd because on their web page it says: “Accessible seating on the bus is prioritized to best meet the needs of all transit customers…The priorities are as follows:
1. Customers who use wheelchairs, scooters, or other mobility aids.”


My father was not amused. I think he is talking to HIS manager today, fathers get touchy when their daughters are left out in the rain. On a side note, one time, due to the passengers failure to comply, he emptied an entire bus, loaded the passengers in wheelchairs, then allowed the other passengers to board. He really takes those priorities seriously.

I immediately called the Transit administrative offices and asked to speak with the person who would be in charge of the official wheelchair policy since what was on their web page and what I had been officially “told” was in complete opposition. They patched me through to the Training and Safety Managers voice mail. I have waited over a day to hear back; with no response as yet (I’m not holding my breath).

So that was my shopping day. I got a cool shirt, I got a real education on discrimination and crappy service (hello people, if North America is suppose to be a ‘service economy’, could you try a little harder when someone is actually WANTING to buy stuff from you?) and I got so angry I woke up with three zits. My training mentor is so appalled she is writing a report for her supervisor but I do not expect much. Only now am I being to understand the question: Is the person with mobility issues disabled or is the society itself disabled because they are incapable of integrating a person with mobility issues?

22 comments:

hazel said...

Well I am glad you are feeling well enough to be posting again. This entry was extremely powerful.

I feel your super powers from here. Your training is complete...

But seriously, I am astounded by the amount of crap you had to wade through to find a t-shirt you liked. (Very nice by the way)

But not particularly surprised by it. I absolutely know what you mean when you describe that Oh no here comes... look on clerk faces while shopping.

I got so angry with the levels of service in the lower mainland, I started a secret shopping service. I closed it down after two years when it became apparent what the problems were: Sales managers prioritizing upselling, info gathering (for 'reward programs") and appearance over timeliness, courtesy, product knowledge and job satisfaction levels.

If retailers don't care about the quality of service their customers receive, they are not going to care about the staff either. This attracts real unhappy unfriendly people who have no business interacting with the public.

But there is so much more to this.

Your statement about the disabled society we live in, failing to integrate people with mobility issues gets right next to the heart of the matter, imo.

We live in a society where there is a mass delusion that a certain small percentage of the world are the "visible majority" and the rest of us are "minorities" of one label or another.

I say this is poppycock, and societal insanity.

Its an us vs them mentality instead of a more inclusive Us attitude.

This delusion allows us to compete for the title of fattest nation on earth. Those who expect much, take much.

The truth is we live in an environment where we are all very much aware of how pampered and privileged we are (generally) in the western world.

At the same time we are also aware that we hog 2/3's of all the worlds resources.

That kind of conflict can only produce disordered thinking in individuals.

You can't go through life knowing you are causing 2/3'rds of the planet to live in poverty and extreme poverty without A) being a heartless snake B) Experience various levels of guilt and anxiety over it, C) Make lifestyle changes to better reflect your inner ideals, over societal mores.

Imagine the mob mentality that governs many social interactions.

Example, people always ask, how are you? They get upset if they aren't asked in return, yet few actually would ever give an honest answer, nor would one expect to get one. One of those unwritten nutty rules of community.

Isn't that just way too much BS packed into three little words?

I do hope the situation for the mobility issues in Victoria receive major attention and a good kick in the ass.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Hazel - uh, I was with you until about 1/2 way through when minorities got turned into "fattest nation" thing - which I think is a reference to the US, unless this is a North American reference, but have you been to victoria - anorexia isn't a disease here, it's a mandatory lifestyle, wait, I'm getting distracted - the post was about how I don't have a car (not like you would want me driving with my condition anyway) and do public transit which in Victoria is moving to/mostly alternative fuel so as much as I hate say...rich folks in Oak Bay; having moved back here from a class ridden white bred UK society, one of the things I like about where I live is that most people do have a foot here and a foot with relatives in parts of the world which are not so economically privilaged.

I guess I kinda lost you there in the middle and will catch up at the end - yes, let's hope Victoria gets its butt in gear about wheelchair riding.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Sorry that should read (much as I hate to defend Oak Bay people) - since they are rich and white and trying to be like the class society I moved away from the in the UK - I mean the "rest of us"

kathz said...

This post ought to be read widely - I think I'll circulate it to a couple of friends as a starter. I'd like to see the post printed and handed out to bus passengers and shoppers at the mall. I'm appalled by the behaviour of the bus-drivers and shop staff. (I have a little understanding of the women who left strollers - pushchairs? - up because I remember how hard they were to collapse while holding a child - I tended to stay off buses after being bawled out by a driver and forced to wake a sleeping baby, hold her as she screamed and collapse the pushchair at the same time - when there was plenty of space on the bus.) Most of my travelling is by train on a route used by quite a few people with visual handicaps - the station staff who are supposed to offer assistance aren't always there but other passengers step in pretty quickly, showing their usual solidarity with fellow-commuters. While it may mean the railway staff aren't operating properly, I appreciate the chance to get to know fellow-travellers better, especially when they turn out to be fellow-campaigners for peace, etc. too.

The T-shirt looks fabulous. I expect you look fabulous in it too.

(I'm a bit tired and not sure this comment is entirely coherent)

kathz said...

I meant to add that I think the transit mentor is a great idea - even if the journey was horrendous.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Thanks Kathz - actually strollers are not required to be collapsed until the space is needed so that rarely happens - as usually wheelchairs and strollers can be accomadated together.

I will say I struggled initially with the whole "should I demand priority as is written" thing becuase I figure mothers with young children have enough to cope with and probably more influencing, I don't want to be the "baddie" - however, as was driven in by desperation on that rainy corner - I don't have options, other people do - that's why I get priority.

My condition means I have a very finite amount of strength, oxygen levels and conscious time. I cannot walk or even roll over two blocks to catch a different bus because I live in a city that doesn't have flat streets - and with my heart condition, I only use transit to move from places of "easy rolling" to other places of "easy rolling." I cannot go uphill to the next stop or decide to wheel back home - that isn't physically possible: there isn't a level playing field and regardless of pride, I'm not going to pretend anymore that there is - I live 3.5 blocks from my library and STILL can't figure out how to get there from here with my limitations. And if I do, I will NEED to know that space on transit will be there for me, because folding up a stroller or waiting 10 minutes for another bus IS inconvienent, I recognize that - but when you live with "the monster" - being forced to remain upright or exposed to elements beyond my "safety limits" has tremendous terrible costs; There was a reason that I took the buses on Wednesday and blogged on Friday, because that extra time and effort cost me a day; chest pain, sleep loss, limitation of motion, lack of ability to think. If there was a electric wheelchair and me, I would give the space to the electric; but otherwise, if I could give up that space to make someone else's life a little easier, I would, but I can't.

kathz said...

I didn't mean that strollers should take priority over wheelchairs - obviously not - just that I can see why mothers wouldn't collapse the strollers until asked. Most of what I remember about the first six months of being a mother is sleep deprivation. But if the driver had asked people to collapse strollers I don't think anyone would (or should) have objected. I wonder if I was aware of anyone else at the time - though I do remember thinking that trying to get a pushchair around on public transport and in and out of shops, loos, etc. gave me an insight into what life must be like in a wheelchair - and that I shouldn't forget it. I've just circulated your post to several friends suggesting they pass it on for the insights it gives.

Kate J said...

You have my total admiration for even attempting the trip you describe. Most disabled people over here (UK) have just given up on shopping... the internet has made it hardly worth the trouble. So they are once more hidden away. And without any public transport to speak of in many areas - such as the rural area where I live (no buses at all, 3 trains a day) people are dependent on being able to drive, having someone to drive them, or charity-run 'dial-a-ride' schemes.When they finally get to the shop it may be technically accessible but in practice not. Working in the HIV field, I have several friends who have severe mobility restrictions while not actually being in wheelchairs. They tell me that (a) the disabled parking spaces are all taken by people without entitlement badges, and (b) they get verbal abuse from people who say "oi, you're not disabled" (ie not in a wheelchair). Another friends who has an artificial leg and can walk, but only a short distance, reports similar problems.
But your experience shows that the main issue is not the provision of services - though this helps - as Victoria is probably way above average, but people's attitudes. In fact, society's attitudes as a whole.
My friend with the artificial leg sometimes uses a wheelchair and says people's attitudes to her change once she is in the chair - along the lines you describe, of always addressing her 'carer' (ie the person she pays to take her out). She s a "disabled activist" who has chained herself to buses etc in campaigns for more accessible services.
We've all got to change. And we've all got to accept that disability is all of our responsibility, not just the person in the chair.
(Recently I had to learn to operate an 'accessible minibus' and we all had to take a turn at 'being' the disabled bus-user. It was scary.
I do hope your next trip out goes better...

Elizabeth McClung said...

Actually one of the first things I said to Linda when we moved to Cardiff, I saw the tilty flagstones, the streets where only one side would have an dipped access street ramp and the way things are often put right in the middle of sidewalks was "Wow, does this town ever HATE people in wheelchairs" - I could not see how it would be possible for someone with a wheelchair, much less even mobility issues or unsteady walking to handle much of cardiff's "distinctive" sidewalks (like the many flagstones which flip up when you step on them). On our street, they had put a sign post directly in the centre of the wheelchair street ramp, making it impossible for a wheelchair to ever use it. Sadly, I still haven't stopped being a very tall woman with a very tall body who needs to actually try on each and every piece of clothing to see if it fits.

I think that, maybe like being gay, if you are an active wheelchair user, you are forced to move to certain cities (London, Brighton) to continue your "lifestyle".

Ironically, people's view of me, when they do see me has changed, being a uber-fit 6'3" Goddess who could go for a 5 mile run in the morning and then exercise for 2 hours that night people stared, or backed away or were attracted but they definately never saw me under particular female modes ("fragile", "delicate" etc), Yesterday, a mother stopped her 2-3 year old boy and said, "remember, ladies go first." which was odd because I was doing what I usually do, holding back so I let the other "smaller" people go ahead and don't run them down - only now I am not standing over them and that is not how they view me. Just means I need to wear more spiky things.

Kate J said...

Well, if you think Cardiff is bad, you should try living in rural parts of Wales... Actually, you mention Brighton, I lived there for many years, and I wouldn't say that was a particularly disabled-friendly place at all. Nor London either if you're a public transport user. I'm saying this, having known a lot of wheelchair using people and people with other mobility or sensory problems.
By the way, I ordered a copy of Zed. Very much looking forward to reading it.

Denise said...

I'm thinking with all the trouble you're having with people paying *any* attention, if you could rig your chair with a sabre (in its scabbard, of course) so that you could whip it out when a driver tries to say "no room!" or a store employee wants to treat you like a broke idiot. They might be all "hur hur she's got a sword," but only until you lob off their right hands with skill and grace... Or maybe daggers would be better since these people keep trying to run off before you can get close by.

A girl can dream, eh?

Wiccachicky said...

Take it from someone who has dealt with a lot of crappy customer service issues -- phone calls don't work. You have to send official letters. That way they worry about the legal implications. I have almost always gotten things answered in letter form -- though it depends on the company for how much time it takes them to respond.

GayProf said...

I imagine that the Victoria Transit system is not only obligated to accommodate people in wheelchairs by their own policies, but also by provincial and federal laws. I agree with Wiccachicky that writing a letter is the first step to really correcting these problems. It might also make sense to think about writing a letter to the editor of your local paper.

BTW, the MBTA faced a serious lawsuit because most of the Boston transit system was entirely unusable by people in wheelchairs (including subway stations that were only available to people who could climb stairs). Now they are required to provide equivalent service (like shuttle transport). For what I can tell, though, this has not helped much.

When I was an undergraduate, the president of my university (who was a real ass) dismissed the complaints of students in wheelchairs about the accessibility of the campus. He was then dumb enough to take the challenge of those same students to spend a day in a wheelchair. On that day, he couldn't even get into his own office because the doorway was too narrow.

areopagitica said...

I just added a link to this post from another blog.

kathz

Anonymous said...

I take the #30/31 into James Bay three times a week and I have almost never seen a wheelchair on the bus on that part of the route. The occasional senior with a walker, but never a wheelchair.

Stephanie

Elizabeth McClung said...

Thanks Stephanie, that is what I suspected - and thank you everyone else for the emotional and other support - I talked to the Manager of Training and Safety who said that the information I recieved on the phone would be looked into but that they were "changing their webpage" - he also did tell me that he has told his drivers, if a person with a stroller does NOT want to fold it up to let a wheelchair on..."pick the fights you can win" - which means he has told his drivers that leaving a wheelchair in the rain IS acceptable in certain circumstances - is it then surprising that some drivers may take this point a little further and assume that once they are full of stroller or shopping carts, etc - why make the hassel.

He assured me that a non-wheelchair accessable bus on a run, the driver will offer to contact the supervisor so I can know when the next available bus will arrive - two days later after waiting on the 27/28 run, a listed "all buses wheelchair accessable" once again, I get to see everyone get on the bus while I sit, freezing in the cooling evening because the bus was not wheelchair accessable - luckily the next one was; in general, I have had about a 50% hit rate (in one instance, the driver loaded everyone else on, and though I am the only person at the stop left, I have to wheel up and shout into him that can I PLEASE go on this bus - Where am I going? He wants to know. Downtown. Where exactly Downtown? The bookstore. He thinks and then finally lowers the ramp.

Yesterday I met two other manual wheelchair users out and about and asked them how they found the Transit system - they told me: "Buy a car."

Anonymous said...

By the way, Elizabeth, if you are going to be stuck getting around on buses, you should apply for "persons with disabilities" (PWD) designation. Among other things, it will allow you to buy an annual bus pass for only $40. If you are getting around by car, you can also get a gas tax rebate.

If you email me, I can given you more info including where to get an advocate who can help you get through the bureaucracy.

arzendiq AT yahoo DOT ca

Stephanie

Matthew Ford said...

Elizabeth

I agree with you about the bus system... it sucks! But your choice in clothes is absolutely right on the money! I can relate to your issues with the bus system as I have a few friends in wheelchairs who I go shopping with, partly as someone to carry their stuff, but mostly as a friend.

I have Epilepsy and spend a good portion of my life in a Care Home for people with disabilities as both of my parents had to work. That period drew me closer towards others as true friends who can understand and relate to such issues. Having been in a wheelchair myself before surgery let me walk, I can relate well to the issues you're facing with stores, buses, etc.

Elizabeth, I would really like to meet you and perhaps we could be friends and do stuff together. I currently have a few friends I join on shopping ventures or going out to see a movie together, and many wonder why I'm so nice to people. I just care and I would like to be friends with you.

I read your story about the bus system and something inside me just wished I could have come there and helped you out. Perhaps we could go out together and things would be different?

No I'm not asking you out, so you don't need to worry about that. I just want us to be friends, for in this world, friends are hard to come by when you have a disability. Trust me.

Matthew Ford
matthewford@shaw.ca

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting your experience with BC Victoria Transit. I notice that your post is dated early 2007; sadly, in January 2009 public transportation on Vancouver Island for wheelchair users has not improved. Recently I, using a power chair, was stranded in Sidney by a commuter bus driver who refused to take me, despite the bus ostensibly being accessible. North Saanich's Transit Training and Safety Manager informs me that bus drivers are allowed to use their discretion in deciding whether to take wheelchair bound passengers and, though he would "look into" my complaint, nearly two months later, I am still awaiting a response. Next stop my MLA and MP!

RG said...

As the person before me said, this happened in 2007 but nothing much has changed in 2009. My bus story bears some slight similarities to yours.

I was visiting the Victoria area yesterday from the mainland, and the driver on the 70 bus from Swartz Bay was really rude. As I rolled up, I asked to get on. He looked at me for the longest time with this unbelievable look of disgust on his face, took a HUGE sigh, and then finally loaded me. After reading your entry, I wonder if he was thinking of a reason NOT to load me, because it was a really long pause during the stare.

The rest of the day was more or less unnotable. But the final bus trip going back towards the ferry terminal was on the 73 and, like your experience, that driver treated me like royalty. I actually wonder if we both had the same driver.

Anyways, best wishes to you, and thanks for the blog entry.

OrbitalDiamonds said...

That burns my ass big time. The bus situation did too, but I've worked in retail at a mall (Dillard's, Southgate Mall, Sarasota, FL) and complained to any co-worker (and supervisor) that would listen that because corporate was dumping the warehouse on us, the racks were too close together (as in, I couldn't walk sideways through them) and how it wasn't just inconvenient, it was an AMA violation. When we had customers using wheelchairs or walkers or scooters, we'd go out of our way to move the racks (it killed my back but I had the spoons to suck it up and lay down when I got home), or if we didn't have room to move them far enough, we'd go into "personal shopper mode" from the beginning and find out what they're looking for, and bring them multiple samples (which is part of our job anyway) and I, for one, had no qualms about bumping them to the front of the line as far as the handicapped room (and they're fairly big; I've had to help people try stuff on at times and there was plenty of room, and I was in petites and plus sizes) went.

Um...I hope that made sense. tl;dr I enjoy and excel at customer service jobs and it pisses me off to the extreme when people get treated like dirt (or worse, ignored) for something they can't control. I'm able-bodied. I'm also short and fat and not particularly attractive. If I go into a regular trendy-clothes shop (Body Shop, Charlotte Russe, etc.), the sales people won't even look at me. The only sales people who'll talk to me are the ones at Lane Bryant and Torrid because I'm their target market (even though I'm not *necessarily* a plus size :P).

I don't really know what else to say. I want to go into disability-rights advocacy as a career, and while writing this I thought maybe I could concentrate on accessibility in shopping centers, since I've already got training in merchandising and what-not. Ideally I'd have a website with awards for the most accessible places and a blacklist for the worst. It could happen. :)

Elizabeth McClung said...

Orbital: It is something I think should happen as well - other places have ratings, there are top 100 corporations for daycare and other benefits, top 100 green corporations, why not annually make a list of local or state/provincial organizations and rate the best and the worst - I totally support that. The problem here is that Recreation and Integration lists are 5 years old, the Victoria Island Health Authority lists are 7 years old on resources, and the disability center is only just updating their list (every number they gave me was disconnected or wrong) - it takes the time that often people with severe disabilities don't have to get out and about, or do the face to face meetings to get something like that set up. I think it is desperately needed, I just wish there was funding for it.