Transit Windsor Accused of Providing Inconsistent Service to Handicapped Woman

By Chris Thompson, The Windsor StarMarch 12, 2010

Transit Windsor has been accused of providing inconsistent service to Sheena Kerr, a handicapped woman who depends on city buses for transportation.

The caregiver for a handicapped woman says Transit Windsor may claim to have handicapped-accessible buses on routes, but the service frequently depends on who is driving the bus.

Tiffany Lilliman, 24, is employed as an intervener for Sheena Kerr, 26, who is deaf-blind and verbally non-communicative.

"Her only mode of transportation is the bus," said Lilliman.

"For about the past three months we have been running into bus drivers who refuse to lock her in with the straps."

Lilliman takes Kerr to Devonshire Mall every Tuesday to meet a friend for lunch, boarding the Transway 1A bus at the downtown transit terminal.

She said she has been having an ongoing confrontation with a specific driver, and at some points she won't even try to board the bus when that driver is driving.

Accompanied by a Windsor Star reporter on Thursday, Lilliman and Kerr lined up to board the bus.

When all the other passengers had boarded the bus, the bus driver told the pair on the sidewalk "I talked to my boss and he said I didn't have to -too much stress," the driver told Lilliman before closing the door and driving away.

Transit Windsor general manager Penny Williams said she is aware of the situation and the driver reported the Thursday incident himself.

"We have been working with the driver to ensure he is following our policies, and regulations, that is that they will tie down the wheelchair," said Williams.

"We are aware of it and we are working desperately to ensure that our procedures are followed."

Securing a wheelchair requires a driver to kneel or bend over and attach and tighten a pair of straps to each wheel to prevent the wheelchair from moving. They also have a lap belt but not all handicapped riders want it.

Transit Windsor has a special schedule identifying which specific routes will have handicapped-accessible buses and at what times.

Transit Windsor has been gradually expanding its handicapped accessibility, particularly since the acquisition last year of 18 hybrid, fully accessible kneeling buses.

Lilliman said the bus driver in question has told her in the past he has knee pain. On Friday, when Lilliman and Kerr attempted to board the bus with the same driver, he lowered the bus and ramp and attached the straps to the wheelchair.

However, he did express concern about Kerr kicking him in the face while he was doing it, so Lilliman held down Kerr's legs.

Roy Lucier, driver representative for Local 616 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, said Transit Windsor and their drivers welcome handicapped patrons, but there is more to this particular situation.

"There have been words and they don't see eye to eye," said Lucier.

"He felt he was being abused by this person. That's where the stress comes in."

Lilliman said her first encounter with the driver was contentious, and he expected her to assist with the fastening but she is prevented from doing it for liability reasons. She said there are other interveners who work with Kerr who have had problems with the same driver.

Lucier said fastening the wheelchairs is not as simple as it appears and is "very awkward" for the driver.

"Those hooks that strap those wheelchairs are low to the floor," said Lucier.

"They jam up due to the snow and the salt and when they wash the buses out. They just won't come out."

Drivers can waste time trying to free the latches with the bus standing still, Lucier said.

Despite the complaints, Elizabeth Esposito, executive director of handicapped advocacy group Harmony In Action says they have had good experiences with Transit Windsor.

"We have had nothing but positive, positive relationship with transit," said Esposito.

"We've got individuals that have always had to take a Handi Trans bus to get here but once they started and we were able to teach them. It's just amazing in what it does for their self esteem, and the drivers have been awesome."

Rosemary Bennett, spokeswoman for the Ontario Human Rights Commission, said someone in Kerr's situation could have grounds for lodging a complaint.

"As a provider of a service, transit providers have a duty to accommodate, and that's under the Ontario Human Rights Code," said Bennett.

"And what that means is if a customer asks for a service and asks for an accommodation in this case in this case a disability, they have the duty to try their best to accommodate to the point of undue hardship."

© Copyright (c) The Windsor Star

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