Wednesday, May 17, 2006

This Bus Is Not For You

Recently we may have heard reports that the Complaint filed against the MBTA by Boston Center for Independent Living, (BCIL) was settled successfully and discrimination against persons with Disabilities, (PWD's)would end. In meetings I heard that the MBTA had agreed to take steps to insure folks who use wheel chairs, walkers and service animals wouldn't be trapped underground when they arrive at a station with the elevator out of order. This happened to me once, and I assure you it is no fun. I arrived at Park St on the Red Line, and took the elevator up to the Green Line level, only to find the elevator to the street inoperable. I had no choice but to return home, as finding a way around this barrier would make me hopelessly late for my meeting.

For some reason the MBTA has been slow to understand that folks with physical, mobility disabilities, who work, have doctors apointments, attend meetings, etc, expect to be able to use public transportation to get there. from my observations, the MBTA has been content to simply change a service, or shut down a service, sometimes without notice, as a solution to operational and maintainence problems, without access around the barrier that is created by this. "Sorry, the elevator is not working." is the total message I recieved. Gee. Now how do I get to where I am going?

After repetedly trying to work through access issues with the MBTA, and not being able to get the MBTA to resolve this continued denial of service, the BCIL filed a complaint against the MBTA. The complaint has settled, and the MBTA has agreed to stop dening service based on disability. However, my expierienc last week shows that the MBTA still doesn't "get it!"

Last week I was denied service by four MBTA bus drivers on the #1 line, the "Mass ave bus." Each of these drivers stated that it was only at their discresion if a person with a disability brings their service dog onto the bus with them. They stated that this was the MBTA's policy. One driver refused to allow entry to the bus,slamming the doors shut, and pulling away prematurely, leaving me standing in the pouring rain, one driver took my fare, then, because the bus was crouded, and I needed to enter the reay, slamed the doors on my dog's nose, and left me behind, driving away with my fare in hand. A witness has come forward in this incident.

In another incident, Tuesday May 9th, the driver refused to drive with me on the bus, and all the passengers were removed, while the "inspector" tried to find out the "proceedures." I was informed that a "disabled person cannot have a service dog on the bus, unless it has either a red or a yellow collar!" LOL I must tell you, that is NOT the Law! So, I politely explained the fed ADA service dog law to him. he then made another phone call, and l;ucky for me, he came back and apologised, and said I was right. He then helped me to take the next bus that came alone. Time for me to catch a bus to Harvard Sq, approximately one hour! I was not so lucky in the fourth incident, when the driver of bus #2259 decided to lock me up inside the bus and call the police. My crime? She was angry that I had provided another passenger, who uses a wheelchair, with the name and address of Mass Commission Against Discrimination. A third passenger, who lent me the pen, was not harassed, and he was not disabled, either. When the police arrived I asked if I was free to go, and they said yes.

The purpose of this report is to inform folks of the responsibility of the MBTA to provide service to all their customers. The MBTA must provide training so individual bus drivers do not discriminate against persons based on their disability. The real issue here is the Civil Rights issue, which the MBTA seems not to understand. They mistakenly believe that treeting Persons With disabilities the same as other folks is the way to stop discriminating. In fact that is a gross misunderstanding. What the MBTA must do is "identify barriers" that prevent folks with disabilities from access to the MBTA, and take appropiate steps to "remove those barriers."

What are barriers? Well, some are architectural, like steps, or seats; some, according to the dept of Justice, (DOJ) are "barriers in the general environmnet" like a "no pets allowed" sign; but the most serious barriers folks run into are referred to by the DOJ as "attitudinal barriers."

The MBTA needs to look at it's attitude toward persons with disabilities, and begin a comprehensive program to address the latent bias directed at those who's abilities make access to the MBTA impossible without the removal of the barriers.

I might add, as an observation of common sense, that the new million dollar busses, with the low floors, are useless unless the drivers slow down, and "curb the bus" so the purpose of the low floor can be realized.


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