All too frequently, people who discriminate against wheelchair patrons are insensitive to the fact that they do it at all unless they are called on it in the midst of the act. The subject of the outward discrimination is often too hurt or self-conscious to speak up. Most people would say that it’s a good thing that the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed to provide wheelchair accessible services on public transportation systems. They wouldn’t preface their verbal support with “as long as it doesn’t hold me up when I’m in a hurry to get somewhere.” However, all too often, their actions speak louder than words.
In larger cities, people are accustomed to seeing ramps, lifts on buses, elevators in subway stations and designated handicapped seating on trains and buses, all designed with disabled patrons in mind.
While the buses have lifts and designated handicapped seating, all too often it is a bus driver who will simply not stop when someone in a wheelchair is waiting at the bus stop. It’s done in the dead of winter when the ground is frozen solid, in the heat of summer when sunburn only takes a minute to set in, and in windy, rainy weather as well. Too many people can’t stand to inconvenience themselves.
Generally speaking, a bus driver’s job is single-minded when it comes to people who can walk, they simply walk onto the bus, drop their fare into the box and take a seat. The bus does not have to park or power down; it just keeps on rolling. The bus driver’s job becomes more complicated with respect to the wheelchair patrons.
First, the bus driver must completely park the bus, thereby shutting down all service in order to personally transport the wheelchair patron onto the bus. Then the driver must lower the lift so that the wheelchair patron, if the person is agile enough to do so, can position him or herself onto the lift. In the event that someone has a level of disability which would render it impossible to position themselves onto a lift, the bus driver must get off of the bus to position the person. The driver, having successfully lifted this passenger onto the bus, personally escorts the passenger to the designated handicapped seating area, where the passenger is then physically clamped into position.
All the while, the handicapped person has been forced to the center of everyone’s attention, and must go through the whole procedure again when it’s time to get off the bus. As the bus driver shuts down all other service to give undivided attention to the task at hand, a slew of impatient, tired, and over-worked passengers are getting more annoyed about being held up a few minutes longer. The handicapped passenger may well feel humiliated by being the center of attention. Do the other passengers imagine that this grunting and groaning makes the person in the wheelchair feel good about themselves?
Is it possible that their own disapproving outward expression is all the support a bus driver (who may well be running late already) needs to simply not stop when someone in a wheelchair can be seen waiting for the bus in the distance? What many of the able-bodied passengers who let such expressions escape their lips don’t understand is that a great many of them will live to see the day when they too are in a wheelchair. By then, they will experience first-hand what pain their grunts and teeth sucking had caused to someone who had no control over their situation–only it will be too late to express apologies.
The lesson here is this: All of us must learn to be patient, to learn that a few minutes of our time are not worth as much as another person’s feelings, and to recognize that people in wheelchairs deserve every ounce of the respect given to anyone else.