Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Shades of accessibility

Now, I complain often about Greyhound. Their prices are inflated, their service -- both on the phone and at the station -- is pathetic, and they've left me stranded on more than one occasion. But today I met someone whose experiences with long-distance public transportation has been truly appalling.

I met Isabella outside the restroom stalls on the Amtrak. There are a few seats for strollers and wheelchairs so, while waiting to use the steel closets of stench known as train washrooms (not even the door worked on this one!), I chatted it up with Isabella.

Isabella has to come to Uttica, New York every few weeks for some sort of post-operation check-up. Isabella relies on a wheelchair to get around, and a wheelchair lift to get into buses and taxis. Greyhound has these lifts, but requires 48 hours to arrange for one to meet her at the gate. Anyone who has ever tried to speak with someone on the phone from Greyhound knows that 48 hours -- involving a special request and a return call, no less -- is a tall order. And sure enough, though she'd been trying for days, she only spoke with someone on the day before her trip.

For Isabella, this meant that she was left 'hoping' someone in Montreal would be able to go against standard operating procedures and make magic happen, ie. attach a device to a bus and help a lady get home. She was prepared to wait till midnight, when she thought they might have more time. But she didn't feel like waiting all night at the Montreal bus station (and last time she tried that at the VIA station they took her passport information and told her Never Again!)
These nights are especially long because hotels aren't really an option. Most can't accommodate a wheelchair, so she ends up sitting in her chair all night.

The whole situation brought me down, and got me thinking about those bus signs for accessibility. You know the ones that depict concert staff talking to the friend of a blind man, asking if he wants to sit at the front? Or suggesting restaurants make menu type large and legible?

I'm looking for a link to this ad campaign, which I think is fabulous and articulates our skewed view of disability, but all I find are McGuinty promises to make Ontario more accessible. Can anyone help me out?

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