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Nov 06, 2013

Social Justice in Progress Part II:

In a past blog, I wrote about my volunteer experiences as a social justice advocate for persons with developmental disabilities.  I wrote that I would update members on how their meeting went with the Director of the Regional Transit Authority that occurred the last week in October.

We met with the advocates a few weeks earlier to train them on how to communicate their concerns to the Director. The Chair of the REDD (Rights, Equality, for the Dignity of the Disabled) group conducted a few role-plays with several members to make them feel more comfortable in expressing their thoughts.  I provided a few inside tips on who may attend as well as what role they play within the bus company.  

On the day of the meeting, over twenty advocates came along with a few staff members and one mother with her adult daughter. The Chair did not know if the Director was going to show up.  We were pleasantly surprised that he did show up along with his administrative assistant and a representative from the transportation planning commission. The Chair facilitated the meeting as advocates were seated in an informal circular arrangement in a medium size conference room. 

The Chair announced that the purpose of this meeting was to convey the advocates’ issues when driving either the para-transit vans and/or buses on the fixed routes. He went over each concern as advocates told their stories.  In regards to one issue, “Driver’s behaviors,” one advocate told about his horrific experience with one driver.  He said that the driver got lost while driving him in his taxicab where he was cursed and yelled at. The advocate further added that “the driver told him he won’t drive him in his cab again.” For a moment, you can hear a pin drop as the room became silent.  A few people including myself, shook our heads in disgust as we could not believe how cruel some drivers can be with their passengers. The Director said he was sorry that he experienced this treatment from the driver. He also asked them if he filed a complaint. The advocate said, “No.” The Director let everyone know that filing out complaints are important for the administration to be aware of issues that riders are having on the buses. 

The Director informed the group that there are cameras on the buses that record video all day long. The video and audio is then downloaded at the bus terminal. However, cameras are not on the vans but do have a GPS system on where the vans are at all times. He further said that the video is saved for a certain period of time.  One of the parents said that some persons with developmental disabilities are not able to write down their complaints as well as read the information on the complaint form. The parent recommended that they use “pictures” as a way for advocates to communicate their complaints on the form with a staff person. The Director noted that the system was being revamped on their website for riders to file complaints.

The meeting went well as advocates communicated their concerns to the Director.  He said he would write a response to their concerns and email it to the Chair of the REDD group in two weeks. 

A week later…
On Monday, two representatives from the bus company came to the REDD meeting. We met with the Operations Manager who now handles the ADA/Customer Service issues with their riders. The new travel trainer also attended our meeting. He said that the bus company wants to meet with the advocates at a future meeting with them. The operation manager noted how last week’s meeting with the advocates caught their attention on issues they were not aware of happening with this population.  A future meeting with the advocates will take place in December as REDD will bring along the letter from the Director to share with them. 

This social justice project is ongoing. I will keep you abreast of future developments. REDD made a difference in empowering individuals with disabilities to speak up to the director of a large metropolitan bus company. 
Robbin Miller is a counselor who specializes in mindfulness meditation; Positive Psychology; and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies; and is also a volunteer cable access producer and co-host of her show, "Miller Chat" in Massachusetts. 

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