Disabled Utahns joined a national effort to picket Greyhound Lines Inc. on Tuesday by demonstrating outside the company's Salt Lake bus depot and calling the bus line's policies "as discriminating as South African corporations who practice apartheid."
The Salt Lake protest was one of twelve staged in cities from Hartford, Conn., to Los Angeles early this week. Police in several cities arrested demonstrators in wheelchairs who blocked Greyhound terminals.While denying that it discriminates against disabled persons, Greyhound officials Wednesday continued to pursue methods of accommodating the demands of the American Disabled for Accessible Public Transportation group.
"There are many handicapped persons who can travel by themselves without help," George Gravley, spokesman for Dallas-based Greyhound Lines Inc., said in an interview. "Those protesting are a minority who require assistance. These are people who need help getting up and down the bus steps. We don't expect our drivers to do that for them. A driver's job is to drive the bus."
In case of an accident, a person who can't get off the bus by himself would be in danger, he said.
Greyhound officials met twice in August with ADAPT leaders and were addressing their complaints. "However, ADAPT members were disappointed we didn't do everything they wanted on the spot," said Gravley. "We thought we responded in a forthright way to issues they raised. We are disappointed that the demonstrations occurred."
Barbara Toomer, Salt Lake ADAPT leader, accused Greyhound of intentionally making it "as difficult and expensive as possible so the buses do not have to transport physically disabled persons."
What does ADAPT want from Greyhound Lines?
Toomer says their requests are simple. They want Greyhound to:
-Equip every Greyhound bus with a wheelchair lift.
-Drop the policy which requires wheelchair-bound people to travel with an attendant.
-Not require a physician's certification of their handicap.
-Allow disabled persons to board the bus with wet-cell batteries used to power their electric chairs.
A recent incident in Salt Lake illustrates the problems the disabled have receiving fair treatment, said Toomer. A mobility-impaired person received a bus pass to Arizona from one of the social service agencies. A fellow passenger was recruited to act as his attendant. But because the attendant was not a relative, the disabled person was not allowed to board the bus.
"Many disabled people ride some form of public transportation all over the country - utilizing airplanes and trains. The paternalism shown by Greyhound is appalling," said Toomer.
A Greyhound subsidiary has applied for a grant to use toward designing an experimental bus that would be accessible to the disabled. The company has proposed creation of an advisory group composed of some ADAPT members, Gravley said.
Greyhound operates Helping Hands, a program that provides a free ticket for disabled people who are unable to travel by themselves.
"Unfortunately, it is necessary to require verification from a doctor because of those who would pretend to have a handicap to receive a free ticket for their traveling companion," he said.
Because of the Labor Day holiday, the protest has delayed thousands of passengers. While Gravley understands that disabled people are "inconvenienced every day because of their mobility," he feels it is not fair for ADAPT members to frustrate other passengers by blocking the buses.
Frustration can lead to confrontation between bus passengers and ADAPT members. Recently, in St. Louis, a man who was waiting on a bus because an ADAPT protester was blocking the bus terminal got off the bus and punched the wheelchair-bound man in the face.
"Hopefully, we can reach some compromises to avoid future protests," said Gravley.