By CAM TAIT
There’s a risk — a huge one, too — when you have something as privileged and special as a newspaper column to discuss issues and circumstances you’ve experienced. Sit on your soapbox, Tait, if you must, you could easily, and rightfully, criticize. Good journalism?
Yet, some circumstances surface when I feel violated and feel like I’ve been treated like a second-class citizen primarily because of living with cerebral palsy.
And with the news story circulated earlier this week about Councillor Bev Esslinger pushing for a review of Disabled Adult Transit Service, commonly known as DATS, perhaps my experience is timely.
DATS has been rolling through Edmonton streets since the mid-1970s. The first time my wheelchair was tied down was 1977 and, like hundreds of thousands of Edmontonians with mobility issues, have used DATS as a public service, which increases independence. Through the years, DATS has been the default punching bag for Edmontonians with disabilities — physical and mental — when asked about challenging issues.
There are many, many drivers who are compassionate and understanding, who go out of their way to assist passengers. Their actions clearly reflect the majority of DATS drivers.
So when the blue and white DATS vehicle headed east out of the Callingwood Recreation Centre parking lot at 10:15 p.m. Sunday, leaving me behind and wondering just how I would get home, I was compelled to write my experience.
I admit 100 per cent a few unkind words slid off my tongue; words that I am ashamed of now. My lively verbal outpouring occurred when the DATS driver walked through the arena’s sliding doors after refusing to take me – after waiting 90 minutes.
Because DATS is a shared door-to-door service, pinpointing exact times when a vehicle arrives is, understandably, impossible. Clients are given a 30-minute window.
My ride Sunday was 9-9:30 p.m. I was at the door at 8:55 p.m. At 9:27 p.m. I saw a DATS vehicle head out of the parking lot and called the dispatch office. That was my ride: the driver radioed in and send he couldn’t find me.
DATS has my cell number and has called in the past when drivers couldn’t find me. I did not get a call Sunday.
The dispatcher said the driver had another drop off ten minutes west of me and he’d return. Not a problem.
When he did, he asked me how I was.
I was tired and hungry. “Upset and I want to go home,” I said..
He said I was yelling at him and walked out to radio the dispatcher and said my behaviour was unacceptable.
The driver came back, pushed me halfway out and then said: “This is how it’s going to be. You will not wave your arms and you shut up if you’re going to ride my bus.”
Bullying? Threatening? You decide.
To their credit, DATS sent another bus in 30 minutes and got me home.
But I was frustrated, and I emailed DATS administration eight questions to get their side of the story. While I didn’t get complete answers, I was told they are investigating.
I sincerely hope the driver who refused to take me Sunday night keeps working for DATS. If he lost his job over this it wouldn’t be anything less than a band aid solution. I think there’s an opportunity here to increase not only awareness of disabilities, but a call to action to see DATS passengers as consumers of a service, rather than an act of charity or goodwill.
Rightly or wrongly, consumers, ultimately, pay the freight. And need to be taken seriously when the deem services are not to their satisfaction.
It’s a risk to encourage such philosophy… a risk, I am convinced, worth taking.