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Disabling discrimination December 3, 2006

Posted by C.A.R.D in Card, Disabled, Discriminate, Discrimination, Lawsuit.

IT’S HARD to believe that 16 years after passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, bus drivers in New Jersey may be refusing to allow blind people to board because of their guide dogs.

Or that bus operators may be deliberately speeding past wheelchair-bound commuters waiting at transit stops. Or that train conductors may be forcibly lifting wheelchair-bound riders out of trains rather than taking the trouble to lower bridge plates that allow disabled persons to exit with dignity.

But that is all happening, according to lawsuits filed this week by three disabled New Jersey residents. The claims of mistreatment and ¬discrimination are backed up |by a videotape taken this summer by a public inter-est group that ¬followed disabled riders for two days.

The accounts are troubling. In one, a woman who is legally blind was trying to catch a bus on a main thoroughfare in Hudson County. Two bus drivers stopped but wouldn’t let the woman board because she was accompanied by a service dog. The woman then walked to another street to catch an NJ Transit jitney van. Five jitneys passed without stopping, and a sixth refused the woman access because of her dog, according to the lawsuit. In all, she waited 2½ hours and eventually had to pay to take a |cab home.

As disabled riders of public transportation in North Jersey no doubt realize, such discrimination is more than inconvenient and humiliating. It is disabling. People with disabilities must be able to arrive at work on time to stay gainfully employed. They, like all public transportation riders, rely on buses and trains to meet their daily needs and fully participate in society.

NJ Transit officials say they are taking the plaintiffs’ claims seriously. A spokeswoman said the agency responded to the lawsuits by sending advisories this week to all bus and train operators to remind them of NJ Transit’s requirements on handicapped access.

The spokeswoman noted, however, that NJ Transit receives few complaints from disabled riders about this issue. So far this year, it has gotten only 132 complaints about handicapped accessibility, compared to the millions of riders it has carried over the same period. The spokeswoman sees this as a sign that the agency is generally serving the disabled well.

True, most NJ Transit bus and train drivers are probably helpful to disabled riders. But it’s just as likely that the experiences of the three people who sued this week aren’t unique. The small number of official complaints might be less a sign of rider satisfaction than of disabled people not knowing whom to call to report problems.

NJ Transit should make its customer service number as widely available and visible to disabled riders as possible. The number is printed on schedules, but many folks throw those away. A better idea might be to post the number visibly inside every bus and train car and to note clearly that this is the number to report complaints, including about disabled access.

Discrimination against the disabled on public transportation should be a thing of the past. To make that happen, NJ Transit must do its best to find out how much of a problem it still is.

C.a.r.d {Citizens Against Racism and Discrimination} Source: Northjersey.com

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