Raising expectations with a low-floor
By Ken Becker
We all know the commercial bus industry can be both challenging and rewarding. However, the challenges we experience are trivial in comparison to what people with disabilities face every day of their lives. One friend who is faced with real challenges is Kristina Rhoades. She is a spokesperson and advocate for the disabled community and speaks around the world on the subject of ”Traveling with a Disability.” Kristina suffered a spinal cord injury at only 10 months-old and has lived her entire life with the use of a wheelchair. Ironically, most people without a disability would have a hard time keeping up with her busy and active lifestyle. This former Ms. Wheelchair California currently resides in Georgia with her husband and daughter. Kristina recently spoke at our ARBOC National Dealer Meeting where she addressed traveling with a disability as well as something I am embarrassed to say I have never had any understanding of until now: wheelchair etiquette.
Kristina’s presentation on ”Wheelchair Etiquette” was something that left a very big and lasting impression on all who attended our National Dealer Meeting. I hope that the following information Kristina presented will be as helpful to you as it was for me. I would like to recommend that this article be shared with everyone in your entire organization:
➤ Language: Always put the person first.
■ Do say:
• ‘Person with a disability’
• ‘Individual who uses a wheelchair’ (or ‘wheelchair-user’)
■ Don’t say:
• ‘Wheelchair-bound’ or ‘Confined to a wheelchair’
➤ Don’t feel the need to change common expressions.
■ It’s still okay to say things like, “take a walk,” or, “stand your ground.”
➤ Avoid asking about a person’s disability without invitation
➤ Don’t touch or give commands to service animals without permission.
■ While tempting, some animals may get distracted from their work.
➤ Get down to eye-level, if possible.
■ Especially important if discussing an important, lengthy or sensitive matter
➤ Never lean on or move someone’s mobility device.
■ These items are NOT furniture – they’re an extension of the owner’s personal, physical space!
➤ Ask before helping.
➤ With common courtesies (such as opening a door), treat the person as you would anyone else.
➤ Get permission before offering physical assistance; don’t assume the person needs your help.
➤ Speak directly to the customer, not to their spouse or companion.
➤ Don’t be afraid to offer your hand in greeting.
➤ Offer at least a touch for a hand shake, but refrain from patting people on the head or being rough.
➤ When in doubt, ask!
”People with disabilities certainly appreciate anything that makes public transportation safer and easier to use, whether it’s with a wheelchair lift or a ramp,” Kristina says. “I can tell you from personal experience that a ramp is much preferred for someone in a wheelchair or walking aid. A ramp allows me to maintain my independence by often eliminating the need for the driver or someone else to assist me. I also get to use the same entrance as everyone else since the ramp extends out from the main passenger door.”
Recently, one of our ramp-equipped buses was delivered to an assisted living home in Kalamazoo, MI. According to the transportation director, their old wheelchair-lift bus became just too difficult for some of their residents to board or exit, so many of the residents would choose to simply not participate in many of the off-property functions. With their new ramp accessible bus in place, there is now rarely an empty seat when taking trips! Just knowing that there are people getting out and enjoying life again is extremely motivating for everyone at ARBOC It’s because of this that the industry must continue to design and develop new and improved ways to make public transportation in both the private and public sector just a little easier for everyone.
For ARBOC, it was evident that large transit buses were on the right track with ramp accessibility, while most all of the paratransit bus services out there still used buses equipped with a traditional wheelchair lift. We are proud to say that since 2008, ARBOC has now built over 2,000 ramp equipped cutaway buses for customers all across North America.
Ken Becker is national sales manager for ARBOC Specialty Vehicles, Middlebury, IN, and a veteran with 14-years in the bus industry. Visit the ARBOC website at www.arbocsv.com