Parents know the feeling well. When someone is mean to your child there is a rage that ignites in your heart and explodes throughout your body. I’ve had to deal with this incredibly strong, mama bear emotion, many times since my daughter became paralyzed at the age of ten. Most people, especially friends and family, have always been caring and supportive, however, throughout the years we’ve had our run-ins especially when it came to traveling. My daughter, Arielle, witnessed on many occasions me turning from quiet, peaceful, please don’t draw attention to me, mom, to the Incredible Hulk Mama Bear when someone treated her in an unkind way.
Over the years I’ve mellowed a bit. With experience came an understanding that most people who, let’s say made bad choices in behavior, when around Arielle were simply ignorant of the correct behavior. Arielle is on her own now, traveling without me, yet still when she tells me things like, “The stewardess asked me if she should drag me to the exit in an emergency.” I cringe. Oh, she did not just say–drag her!
Well, get ready to be shocked because here are some of the things Arielle has had to endure since trying to ride the CUMTD buses in order to get to class at the University of Illinois. It took some time before Arielle told me the busses were leaving her behind. She’s a patient young woman and really likes people so nothing was said to me until it became very obvious that the wheelchair was the reason bus drivers were not allowing her on.
Before I get into the awful choices some drivers made I want to say that there were drivers who went out of their way to help Arielle when the ramp was too steep or slick for her to get up. And there was one driver who asked people to make room for her wheelchair. To them, I say thank you from the bottom of my heart. You are special people.
The first time Arielle told me bus drivers were closing their doors on her the familiar rage surged through me. If I had been in Urbana I would have knocked on their door. I was furious but had hoped it was just one angry old man who was having a bad day. I told Arielle to let me know if it happens again.
Sure enough, the next time she called there was another story of a bus driver leaving her behind. Being so far away, the only thing I could do was call CUMTD. I was forwarded to a supervisor. I told her of the issue and of my concern for Arielle being left out in freezing temperatures. The woman told me that there was not much she could do because they rely on the kindness of individuals to move out of the handicap section and if they don’t move there’s nothing drivers can do. Suppressing everything I really wanted to say to her about that statement, I asked her if it was true that the bus ramps cannot be lowered in cold temperatures. She said yes. So, what she was telling me was that the busses are not accessible in winter. I asked her if that’s legal. She didn’t know. I tried one more time to explain my concern and I told her where my daughter lived hoping that the supervisor would have a chat with the drivers that stopped outside Arielle’s dorm. As a last resort, the woman told me that if Arielle can’t get on the bus she can call (she didn’t give me a number) and another bus will come pick Arielle up. Really? Did she expect me to believe that they would actually send another bus after she just told me that bus drivers can’t make people move out of handicapped sections? And wasn’t she concerned at all that someone in a wheelchair was stuck outside in the cold? OK, let’s take all the able bodied people who can get through the snow if they miss the bus and leave the person using a wheelchair out there to freeze. How does that even make sense to a supervisor? When it comes to idiotic policies like this I have trouble staying calm, but I did. I thanked her and had hopes of something getting done.
Not too long after, I received a text and then a phone call from Arielle. When I picked up the phone she was bawling. My first fear was that she was out in the cold. Luckily, she had made it back to her dorm. Arielle had gone out to catch the bus early. She was the first person at the stop waiting. When the bus came the driver let the others on and then refused to even open the accessible door or talk to Arielle and explain why he wasn’t letting her on. He shrugged and drove away. What makes someone do that? Why didn’t anyone else on the bus stand up for Arielle? My heart broke from 1,700 miles away.
During our conversation Arielle told me about yet another time– the driver who upon seeing her, sighed loudly. When the ramp was too slippery the driver slowly took her time taking off her seatbelt and getting out of her seat. Then she complained loudly while trying to help Arielle up the ramp. She said she didn’t know what to do. Arielle asked her to push the back of the wheelchair and the woman pushed on Arielle’s back…. Again I ask, what makes a person behave in such a way?
Well, I had had it. I sent an email to the news. Within a few hours they were interviewing Arielle. Thank you, New Channel 15! I put a message on Facebook and so many people responded, shared my message and called CUMTD to tell them they need to train their drivers to be leaders of their busses and kindly ask people to make way for a wheelchair, fix their ramps, and not leave students in wheelchairs out in freezing temperatures. They cannot easily run inside for warmth like able bodied people can. Snow, ice, snow piled high, and wheels do not go together. It’s tough! There’s no reason anyone should make it harder for students who use wheelchairs.
There are many more of us in this world who know the right thing to do. There are many more compassionate souls and I’ve witnessed it with all of the support we received since this incident. It’s up to us to speak out. Whether we’re on a bus and we see someone being treated poorly or whether it’s a huge company which has insensitive procedures and bus drivers that haven’t received sensitivity training. Perhaps they’ve been doing the wrong thing for so long they’ve become blind to what’s right.
Here’s the News Interview:
Thank you to everyone who shared Arielle’s story on Facebook and called CUMTD asking for a change in their procedures toward those who uses wheelchairs. And thank you to the Reeve Foundation who also shared Arielle’s story.
Even though Arielle was unable to get to practice when the bus driver left her behind she is still training hard for the Boston Marathon and writing all about it! Check out her post on NPR! She’s adorable on the rollers! That’s my girl!
Featured Image From: Survive a Minnesota winter from your wheelchair: EasyStand Blog