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Oversight on the part of the City of Calgary leads to discrimination against individuals with disabilities.

Posted May 20 2009 1:24pm
Winter hit Canada hard this year, and temperatures everywhere have been pretty cold. The snow storms just prior to Christmas had everyone in a tizzy, especially in places where it rarely snows, like Vancouver.

I live in Calgary, where we get snow every winter. However, we also get chinooks. A chinook is basically lots of warmth that melts all the snow. Typically, it will snow and get really really cold for a few days, then we'll get a chinook and the snow will all melt. A week later, it will snow again. Rinse and repeat. That is Calgary.

Calgary drivers are, arguably, not the greatest drivers in the world, especially when it comes to snow. I don't know what it is about this city, but every time it snows, most people become complete idiots, driving as though they've never seen snow before in their lives. (Yes, this happens every time it snows after a chinook.)

This year, we had more snow than usual. The city ploughed the main roads, which is all they are required to do due to policy. I think they also ploughed the transit routes, which is a Good Thing.

Well, we've got a chinook that's just started, and the snow in the residential streets has been packed by cars so that the street is at the same level as the sidewalks. That's pretty deep snow. Guess what happens when it starts to melt?

That's right: it gets soft and slushy.

Since some of my readers may not know what slush is, let me explain. You know those drinks with crushed ice and flavouring? 7-Eleven calls them Slurpees. Yeah, well, slush is like that, only it's snow and dirt and salt, and it's on the ground. (Don't eat it!)

Slushy snow is really hard to drive in, especially when it's this deep. If it's too soft, your car sinks right in, and it's difficult to get purchase enough that your vehicle is able to move. I'm lucky, in that I have a Pontiac Sunfire that actually has decent tires. It's pretty low to the ground, though, and it's front-wheel drive; I have to admit that I have gotten stuck once so far this winter.

Now that I've explained the road conditions, allow me to tell the story of my afternoon.

As my regular readers may recall, I spend two hours every Thursday afternoon with an autistic teenager. I function as a Community Aide, and we usually go out into the community, often to the library or the book store. I arrive at four o'clock, which is about the time she arrives home from school. She uses a Handi-Bus for this transportation, which, for those who do not know, is a service used to assist individuals with disabilities to get around the city. Several schools hire them to transport their students, and they are also able to be booked by individuals. The Handi-Bus system is meant for people who, for whatever reason, are unable to access the regular Calgary transit routes, and it provides door-to-door service. However, it is not a taxi service.

Today, I arrived on time for my shift and found three women (one of them the mother of the girl I work with) trying to help the Handi-Bus driver get un-stuck.

Yes, people, that's right, the bus my client takes to and from school every day was stuck in the snow in the middle of the cul de sac.

Of course, I parked in a nearby driveway and went to help. With the bus being rear-wheel drive, I got nicely sprayed by snow more than once throughout the event. And yes, we did eventually get the bus un-stuck, but it took the addition of two men and a lot of maneouvering to do it.

There are two reasons why the bus got stuck: first, the road had four to six inches of softened (melting) snow on it; second, the tires were not very good. Why is this a Bad Thing? Because there were still students with disabilities on the bus. It took half an hour to get it un-stuck. This is a disruption to those students' routines and schedules, and while the bus driver obviously had no control over getting stuck in the snow, the fact that it happened is entirely unacceptable.

My client's mother phoned Access Calgary, her alderman, and the city's infoline. I don't know the details of her conversations, but I know that she talked about the need for winter tires on the Handi-Bus, the need for the Handi-Bus routes to be ploughed, and the need for education in winter driving for Handi-Bus drivers. She had difficulty getting through to the alderman, so she wrote an e-mail. She also took pictures of the street in front of her house, including the ruts that the Handi-Bus dug in the snow.

This woman would never use the word 'discrimination' in her advocacy on this matter, but I will. The fact of the matter is that if the city ploughs the Calgary Transit bus routes, it needs to also plough the Handi-Bus routes. To refuse to do so is discrimination against people with disabilities. It denies these people the ability to get around the city - an ability that everyone else in the city has.

I honestly don't care if my own street never gets ploughed. I have a car, and it's doing quite well in the slush. I'm also just one block away from a ploughed road, so if I'm uncertain, I can drive over there to get out of the slush. And if my car is ever completely immobilized by the slush, there is a major bus route that goes along that ploughed road.

But this girl, and the many others like her who require the Handi-Bus in order to get around the city, needs her street ploughed. Her mother is going to drive her to school tomorrow morning, because she can't risk putting her on a bus that will probably get stuck somewhere.

I hope the City of Calgary chooses to rectify this situation.
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