Grandma & Grandpa's Farm

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Space the Travelling Frontier

Who Should Foot the Bill?

When we travel around this world, we expect to pay our way, or if we are lucky have someone else pay it for us, but it does get paid for us one way or another. What about situations when a person needs special provisions for travel? Who should pay for those special provisions? Should those special provisions be accounted for in modes of transportation and at whose cost?

Let's take a very simple example - a person in a wheelchair. Our public transit buses have provisions for wheelchairs. The newer buses have low floors and can extend a ramp to the curb with little slope at all. There are two bench seats which fold up against the interior side of the bus and the first forward facing seats fold up for the wheelchair to be strapped in and anchored facing forward. It does mean in the best case that if there is one person in a wheel chair, they take up the same seat space as 4 or 5 passengers would and these also are the courtesy seats for the elderly or disabled. They also request that if in use that the front 10 feet of the aisle not be used for standing passengers and this would be room that perhaps 5 or 6 people might stand.

Do not get me wrong. I am not an ogre who thinks this is wrong or inappropriate. I am proud that our transit system makes allowance for people who are travelling in wheelchairs and in mobility scooters or with walkers. I am proud that there are buses designed to make it easier for the disabled and elderly to get on board whether they are using mobility aids or not. It is a welcome bonus that the same features make it so that strollers and baby carriages can be taken onto the buses easily - not to mention those two wheeled grocery carts and wheeled suit cases. People who do not have cars and can't afford cabs need to carry goods as well as themselves too. The level floor must also make things easier for those with arthritis and who are visually impaired*. (We also have on nearly all our buses bike racks that can be used at least during daylight hours. They allow increased range for those who wish to cycle.)

But I have sometimes wondered, and worried, especially when I was much larger than I am today - what about when I need to take up more than one seat. Do people think I should pay for two fares? I used to be large enough that it would be uncomfortable for others to share a two person bus seat with. I always tried to travel only in off-peak hours for that reason.

That line of thought continues for me when I go to get groceries. I have this two wheeled grocery cart. It allows me to carry groceries that would be too bulky and heavy for me to carry otherwise. But I really can't take it down the aisle of the bus and would have to sit in the front seats - the very same front seats that fold up for a wheel chair. I guess I feel guilty about it. I end up taking 2-3 seats.

Anyway that is something that happens and is a need for people who rely on transit.

Getting around town is something that most people would agree is a necessity. What about getting around the country or from country to country?

Do the disabled and elderly have a right to travel? Of course in many countries nobody actually has a "right" to travel and must get the proper documents to do so, but in those forward thinking countries that allow people to travel, should the disabled and elderly have the same right and should they be held back for financial reasons?

Let's consider travelling from one part of a country or large state or province to another. It might not even be a matter of a vacation sort of trip, but perhaps something of a legal nature? Perhaps flying to the capital for some reason. I am not going to make up a reason - let's just say the person in question has to be there and it is not a matter of being invited or requested by the government or a company so it can't be argued to be on their dime. For a person who needs a cane or walker, they have transporter chairs to get you in and out of a plane with little problem. I imagine for most who even require more extensive mobility aids short of respirators it would just be the logistics of making sure their chair is shipped safely to the destination or there are aides to take care of pushing them at the destination if they can not ship their chair.

That is good for short flights at least of up to an hour or two, or even three - but there is the call of nature. Even if they have a transporter chair they can take up the aisle of the plane to the washroom, most - to my knowledge - are not disability friendly. Do they have "handicapped" toilets on planes? Would a person have to rely on adult diapers and catheter for the flight?

Now flight attendants can do a lot and I imagine they are trained to handle a lot of contingencies. I know that whole rows can be converted for people who are essentially in hospital beds. I wonder who pays the extra cost for all the seats and for the conversion if it isn't a matter of using the plane as an impromptu air ambulance?

My question is, should the disabled passenger? Should the government? Should health insurance? Should the carrier as a part of civic duty and "cost of doing business"?

I can't answer that myself really. I do know that often it is the elderly and disabled that are on the lowest incomes and that they have the higher medical bills to begin with if those bills are not being paid for by health insurance or government plans.

There are a lot of things that can get complicated if you become disabled or always have been. I just was thinking about this one.

I am proud to live somewhere where they are trying to see towards transportation needs of all of us and where there is not a huge fight when the city wants to put in curbs at corners that a wheel chair can get up or audible pedestrian signals for the visually impaired.

Just food for thought.

~ Darrell


*Apologies if I am not using the correct terminology.

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