Wed Sep 14 2011
Barbara McCarthy-Large is looking for answers.
The 41-year-old mother of three young children recently learned she is going blind.
She lives in Freelton where there is no municipal bus service.
And she’s not eligible for Hamilton’s Disabled and Aged Regional Transportation System, because she can walk.
Most blind folks, like me, were thrown off DARTS buses in 1997 due to budget cuts.
“It was a broad-brush approach,” admits Paul Thompson, manager of the city’s Accessible Transportation Services. There was little outcry at the time and
no one advocated on behalf of the visually impaired.
The only transportation option presently available to McCarthy-Large is the ATS’ taxi scrip program. It lets riders purchase coupons at 60 per cent of face
“I’ve been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa,” she told Action Line. “After a three-hour session with a specialist and endless tests, I was declared legally blind and my driver’s licence was revoked. The shock for myself and my family was earth-shattering. Since that time, I have worked endlessly to learn how to live an independent life. I have sought support from anyone and everyone who could help.”
McCarthy-Large wants to return to work.
But that could prove an enormous challenge without transportation. Her husband is a shift worker. Her youngest child is only a year old.
“I’ve a job offer pending,” she says. “The employer is willing to make a lot of concessions to support me and I am truly very excited about the job. However, I may not be able to accept it. I have been advised by DARTS that I don’t qualify for their program, only the taxi scrip, which would cost me $80/day to get to and from work in Hamilton, which I certainly can’t afford.”
According to DARTS’ policy, eligible riders “must require the use of a wheelchair, walker or scooter, or require kidney dialysis, or have Alzheimer’s disease.”
Otherwise, they must ride on a Hamilton Street Railway bus, or use the taxi scrip program.
But, the Ontario government is demanding municipalities improve services. The Accessible Transportation Standard, (regulated under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act), became law on July 1.
The new ‘standard’ will apply to buses, subways, streetcars, light rail, specialized transportation (e.g. DARTS), taxicabs and public school transportation.
A senior media/issues co-ordinator for the Ministry of Community and Social Services says the intent of AODA ‘standards’ is to adopt the Ontario Human Rights Code definition of a disability, which covers a broad range and degree of conditions.
“There are specific requirements that must be met regarding specialized transportation, but service providers and municipalities have the flexibility to
determine how to best address their local needs,” Kristen Tedesco told Action Line. “This individual should continue to work with the city to determine
if there is an alternative arrangement available. If someone feels as though their rights are being infringed, they can contact the Human Rights Tribunal
of Ontario (1-866-598-0322) to file a complaint.”
The ministry’s goal is to help organizations meet accessibility requirements, Tedesco says, but the AODA gives the government the power to conduct inspections, assign monetary penalties and prosecute through the courts for certain offences under the act.
Will any of that help McCarthy-Large?
“Hamilton recognizes that changes are required in order to meet provincial AODA transportation standards,” says Thompson. “Proposed changes include amending the ATS application process. Applications would be reviewed by an independent 3rd party.”
Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale MPP Ted McMeekin has written DARTS on McCarthy-Large’s behalf.
“Barbara’s goal is to continue to work and support her family,” McMeekin wrote. “I am appealing to you on compassionate grounds to review the DARTS policy.
It is my hope that she be considered eligible based on the lack of alternative public transit.”
McCarthy-Large is astonished at the apathy shown by others.
“Do they have any idea how bad my mobility is?” she wonders. “I consider it a miracle if I don’t fall, trip, crash into something every day. And that’s
in my own house, where I had familiarity with my surroundings. Stairs have become my biggest nightmare and curbs and pavement are going to be the death of me. Perhaps I should consider standing out on Highway 6 and seeing if I can hitchhike into work?”
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