Riding the bus can be daunting for people with disabilities. Halifax wants to change that

·4 min read
A new program will provide one-on-one and in-person training sessions for people with disabilities on how to use both conventional transit and the Access-A-Bus service. (Submitted by Halifax Transit - image credit)
A new program will provide one-on-one and in-person training sessions for people with disabilities on how to use both conventional transit and the Access-A-Bus service. (Submitted by Halifax Transit - image credit)

Halifax Transit is launching two new hands-on training programs for newcomers and people with disabilities in early 2022 that it says will help improve access to public transportation in the municipality.

The transit service is currently developing an in-person accessibility training program to educate people with disabilities how to use both conventional transit and its Access-A-Bus service.

Patricia Hughes, Halifax Transit's manager for planning and customer engagement, said the idea for the program came after hearing from people with disabilities that the transit system is intimidating.

"It's about providing more support to the customers and answering questions upfront to remove some of the potential hesitation with using transit," said Hughes.

"For some people it will give them more freedom and flexibility in their travel demands."

Hughes said many are unaware that all conventional buses now have low floors and are wheelchair accessible, and they are working to install concrete landing pads at many bus stops.

'The world is very ableist'

She said the new program will cover everything from how to request a stop and learning about the audio and visual stop announcements, to paying fares and how to use the transit app. Staff will also be available to answer any questions participants may have.

Hughes said by providing one-on-one and in-person training sessions, they hope to arm people with enough information that they're comfortable using public transit.

Victoria Levack, spokesperson for the Disability Rights Coalition of Nova Scotia, said the new program was much-needed, and is something she herself will take advantage of.

Levack has a learning disorder and has trouble with directional skills. She needs help reading the schedule and knowing which buses to take.

Jeorge Sadi/CBC
Jeorge Sadi/CBC

Levack said she and others with disabilities don't feel confident enough to take a conventional bus.

"It's confusing for one, and they just don't think it's worth the hassle and the headache," said Levack, who is also a spokesperson for P.A.D.S (Permanent, Accessible, Dignified, and Safer) Community Network.

"Another reason is that the world is very ableist and they're worried that people will judge them, especially when I have to face sitting everyone else and they're all looking at me."

She said although the new program will help many people, Halifax Transit should also think about taking it one step further, to educate the public about all the different people who use the transit system.

That should include some general bus etiquette, like not touching someone's wheelchair without asking or offering unsolicited advice to people with disabilities about how to enter or exit the bus.

Submitted by Halifax Transit
Submitted by Halifax Transit

"Empathy is not sympathy.... Have a little patience and realize that most of us are doing the best we can with what we've got, and we're already doing it the best way we know how," she said, noting that touching someone's wheelchair is like touching a part of their body without consent.

"If I need help, I'll ask."

Levack also said she would also like to see commensurate or annual training for transit drivers. She said many drivers are patient and welcoming, but some are colder to people with disabilities.

"They need to realize that people with disabilities move a little slower than people without disabilities, and that's for a variety of reasons," said Levack, noting she has to think about every single movement her body makes.

Hughes said drivers do receive customer service training, as well as training on how to operate the accessible features of the bus.

Program for newcomers

Halifax Transit is also creating a training program for newcomers who need help navigating the system, particularly when it comes to overcoming language barriers.

Hughes said the newcomers program will address everything from where to buy tickets to how to read the transit schedules.

She said the idea is that an empty bus will be brought to the community so newcomers can experience it first-hand.

"They'll be able to walk around to touch things, try the bicycle rack on the front and talk to staff on site to just get that extra level of comfort and answer any questions people have," said Hughes, adding that they will work with community stakeholders to ensure translation services will be provided.

"I think the intent of the program is really to tailor it specifically to what the residents need to make it the best experience for them."

Last year, Halifax Transit also launched a series of printed guides in seven languages and videos in six languages to help newcomers navigate the transit system.

Hughes said both programs will be launching some time in early 2022.

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