Why are People with Disabilities Treated with dignity and Respect in Brantford but not the County of Brant?

In the January 23 Brantford Expositor there was an article on the Brantford Para transit (Operation Lift) contract being over budget despite diligent management and oversight.

Budget issues with para transit organizations are not new and will increase as the population ages and more people join the ranks of those of us with disabilities.

I am writing about the issues in Brantford to show the dramatic contrast in how people with disabilities are being treated by the city compared to its surrounding County.

From the Expositor article: “Mayor Chris Friel, who observed a portion of the study group meeting, urged caution in how the matter is dealt with, with reassurance the city will continue to ensure the people who depend on specialized transit will have the service they need.”

From the County of Brant: “…people with disabilities need to learn how to budget their money just like everyone else. If they can’t afford the luxuries then they should consider moving and changing their lifestyle…”

When the County realized that it had not been managing its own contract, County mandated metered taxis gave a more realistic cost of travel and   the current service provider who had been providing specialized transportation services without a contract for a year sent a letter to the County stating that it would be billing for the more realistic metered rate subsidy, the immediate response was not one of caution and assurance for those of us with disabilities.

The immediate response from all levels of the County was that those of us with disabilities were somehow “abusing” a public transportation service by using it and attempts were made to restrict where we go despite the fact that this violated the Ontario Human rights Code and the Integrated Accessibility Standards for transportation.

From the Expositor: “McCreary reinforced the statement, saying the study group is aware that specialized transit is a service the city is responsible for providing to those who need it.”

From the County of Brant: “We don’t have to do this (provide Para transit). We are doing it out of the goodness of our hearts, as a gift, and we can take it away anytime we want” and “file a human rights complaint and the service will stop.”

From the Expositor: “”I hope everyone learned after being caught in the middle of the last transition. Those who ride are our clientele, not Operation Lift’s,” McCreary said.”

Apparently in the County we are not clientele or voters, we have no rights and should be grateful for any Crum provided to us by the County and dare not say “please sir, can I have more…or at least our basic and protected human rights.”

People with disabilities in the city of Brantford appear to be treated with dignity and respect while actions by the County in rushing to implement an unaffordable and unsustainable specialized transportation service/Para transit, (now called a subsidized transportation scheme to avoid compliance with the Integrated Accessibility Standards for transportation), demonstrates that we are not valued as voters, employees, volunteers, and members of our community. It appears that Somehow people with disabilities became “the enemy” in a contract dispute…a contract dispute that was brought about by the lack of management and oversight by the County of its own contract.

Although the County has now “found” money to sustain the existing program for 2013, The County stopped dramatically short of any reassurance that the service would continue past February 28 or that it would remain affordable (the new scheme is not). The County has not openly and publically communicated with those of us with disabilities throughout this entire process. We are never sure when we want to use the service if it even exists anymore.

The County should be taking this opportunity for leadership to not only work with Brantford to create affordable and sustainable specialized transportation services, but also its own Accessibility Advisory Committee (which it must do by provincial law), and people with disabilities in the community.

The County needs to be looking at solutions toward affordable and sustainable Para transit rather than creating a blueprint for exclusion of what will be a large segment of its population over the next few years.

(The full Expositor article can be found at http://www.brantfordexpositor.ca/2013/01/23/operation-lifts-deficit-nearly-100000)