It could be that your town or city has a wonderful training program for its public transit drivers. Ideally, it would include a ‘people skills’ component. In other words, bus drivers, and subway, trolly car and ferry boat operators would be provided with a set of guidelines, which outline how they should interact with their passengers…the sort of ‘sensitivity training’ that keep them from making total goofs of themselves. An additional part of driver training, would specifically outline appropriate responses, behaviour, and interaction with passengers who have disabilities.
They seem to have missed that part of training here in Halifax. So, if I were Queen of Halifax for a day, I would mandate our transit drivers to comply with this set of guidelines. It is not a complete Wish List. I leave it up to others to suggest other aspects of training.
1- When you pull your bus up, and someone asks, “What number bus is this?”, YOUR ANSWER is: “Number 14” or “Number 81 downtown”,etc. NOT, “Can’t you see?” or “Look for yourself”. The person asking, might have a visual, perceptual or intellectual disability. It’s not up to you to make a diagnosis or comment. Please say it nice and loud too, because there may be ambient noise outside your bus making it hard to hear you.
2- On the same note, drivers (and EVERYONE) should know that there are DEGREES of Blindness and vision loss. Therefore, learn to recognize the standard white cane (long cane typically used), the white ID (identification) cane, the white support cane (used by someone who has both vision loss and mobility difficulty…often an elderly person), or a sign on a walker indicating the individual has a visual disability. A person with a Guide dog, by the way, should be a clue for you, that the person is blind. FYI Some people are Partially sighted (legally Blind) and might be wearing corrective lenses. Comments such as, “you’re not blind, you’ve got glasses” are NOT appropriate.
3- Now that you know how to spot the person who has a visual impairment, and you have appropriately identified your bus number, you should check the front area of your bus and then indicate to the person, where they might find a seat. example: “there’s a seat on your left, by the door”, or “there’s a seat behind me”. “Over there”, is not helpful. I realize that there is no OBLIGATION to force any other passengers from the front area seats on a bus, but, if there are no available seats, you should, POLITELY REQUEST that someone give up their seat. (Many blind people, or people with other disabilities, prefer to sit up front to facilitate any communication with the driver.)
4- The next appropriate action is: Ask the person who is Blind or partially sighted, “What stop do you want to get off at?”. (They may ask you first). Unless your city has automated voice system technology on buses and subways, the person with vision loss, has a difficult time to determine where they are on the route. Your city may or may not be required to ‘announce’ major stops on the route, though many Human Rights challenges have been fought and won over this issue.
5- Try and refrain from pulling away from the stop the second the passenger is aboard. Give the Blind person a chance to sit down before taking off. Doing so, averts risk of them falling and getting injured.
6- Remember to announce the requested stop. Do it in a loud, clear voice. DO NOT FORGET! Blowing by a familiar stop, may reek havoc for a Blind person. It can be difficult to get oriented when the blind person is even one block off the stop they wanted.
7- When the blind or partially sighted person is getting off your bus, advise them if the bus is a distance away from the curb, or if there is a snowbank or icy patch where they are about to step down onto. At a stop congested with people who are about to board, you should call out that they should step aside, if they are not clever enough to do so on their own.
8- If you are driving a bus that “kneels on request” (Accessible Low Floor or other), OFFER to lower the bus (boarding and getting off). Some people have Guide dogs that object to the high pitched lowering ‘alert’ noise. Other people just don’t require or want it. Some NEED it.
9- Be aware of the Guide dog Access Laws that protect Guide dogs and their handlers, allowing them to board the bus, subway etc. Do not talk to the dog, pet it etc.
10- In most cities, it is against policy to stand and chat with the driver while the bus is moving, unless there is a valid reason. It is distracting for the driver. It also blocks the bus aisle, making it awkward for a Blind person to get on or off, especially with a Guide dog (require wider space to pass). Mindless conversation might also distract you, (the driver) to the point where you forget to announce the requested stop.
11- If your blind or partially sighted passenger asks you a question, such as, “Is this Main Street?”, reply loudly and clearly. Do not nod your head, or grunt.