Torstar News Service
February 5, 2014
Wilfrid Laurier University student Chantal Huinink, who uses a motorized wheelchair, was trapped on a Greyhound bus on Wednesday after the lift malfunctioned.
All Greyhound bus drivers in Canada will receive a refresher course on accessibility equipment over the next three weeks, after a Waterloo woman’s “ride from hell” last month, company officials say.
Faulty wheelchair straps will be replaced immediately and driver training on accessible equipment will go from once every two years to every year, said Greyhound spokesperson Alexandra Pedrini.
Wilfrid Laurier University student Chantal Huinink, who uses an electric wheelchair, came close to being seriously injured and then stranded in freezing weather due to defective equipment and poorly trained drivers during a trip from Toronto to Waterloo on the evening of Jan. 22. Temperatures at the time hovered at -20C.
The one-hour trip turned into a bone-chilling, four-hour ordeal that ended with Huinink having to be rescued by Waterloo firefighters.
“Please accept our apologies for the issues you experienced and know that I have taken your suggestions on how we can improve to heart,” David Butler, Greyhound’s director of passenger services and garage operations for Eastern Canada, wrote in an email follow-up to a phone call with Huinink late last week.
Butler also offered Huinink several free trips for travel on Greyhound for her trouble.
Huinink is happy the company has vowed to make changes. But with just 10 per cent of Greyhound buses equipped to handle wheelchairs and without standard equipment on every accessible bus, she wonders how well drivers will remember the training, even if they will now get it every year.
She was also surprised to learn that the provincial Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act only requires buses purchased after 2011 to be accessible. The legislation doesn’t require private bus companies to retrofit existing buses.
“I don’t want to seem like a pessimist, because it’s obvious that they are making some effort for change,” she said. “But for such a large company with so many staff and so many buses and a lack of standardization, it’s really hard to know if this is going to make a substantial difference or not.”
Huinink doesn’t understand why the province doesn’t have a number she and others with disabilities can call when they experience unreasonable barriers.
“The reason I called the media is I didn’t know who to call,” she said.
A spokesperson for Eric Hoskins, the minister of economic development, trade and employment, said individuals are encouraged to contact the offending organization to complain and then the Ontario Human Rights Commission, if they feel their rights are still not being upheld.
But disability rights activist David Lepofsky said the government’s response is “a cruel slap in the faces of Ontarians with disabilities.”
“Ontario’s Liberals promised disability accessibility legislation with teeth and effective enforcement, so that individuals with disabilities wouldn’t have to suffer the ordeal of battling barriers one at a time by personally fighting human rights complaints,” he said.
The OADA is supposed to make Ontario accessible by 2025, by enacting and effectively enforcing accessibility standards in areas such as transportation, Lepofsky said, but the ministry has chosen not to enforce the law.
Meanwhile, Huinink is glad her complaint has been heard, for the sake of others faced with similar situations.
“My intention is not that people with disabilities will refrain from using buses because of my bad experience,” she said. “Rather, I want to ensure that precautions are taken so that the service is accessible and safe for all, and people are encouraged to go where they need and want to go.”