Tomorrow is Access Awareness Day. We’ve written about the day on the blog before. This time around, I thought we’d talk to a couple of TransLink staff who are working to make the system more accessible. Peter Hill is the manager for Access Transit and Sarah Chung is a community coordinator for Access Transit. I got the opportunity to sit down with them briefly at the 2012 Annual CUTA Conference in Victoria.
What is TransLink’s connection to the accessibility community?
Peter: We have an Access Transit Users Advisory Committee which is made up of 19 members of the disability community and seniors and/or their advocates. They give us advise to make sure that our plans, projects and procurements are all looked at through an accessibility lens. We also go out and do lots of consultation within the accessibility communities to make sure we have a good pulse on what we’re doing right, but also on what we can do better to make sure that accessibility is at the forefront with the whole transportation system.
What accessibility initiatives have you been the most important for you this year?
Peter: Probably the expansion of the TravelSmart for New Immigrants program and being able to build upon the success we’ve had with the TravelSmart for Seniors program. With this program, we’re able to get into a whole new community of persons who come to Metro Vancouver and don’t have the experience with our transportation system and are in need of some encouragement with accessing our system. When we talk about access, we’re not just talking about people with barriers to our system. Being able to get into this community was a victory for us. Sarah was able to get out into the community and was able to educate nearly 2000 participants in the past year which I consider as being a benchmark of our success. Not only do we give them information, they give us information on questions we have.
Sarah, if someone is new to this country and doesn’t know about us how do we find them?
Typically they contact a settlement agency or community group. Also, a lot of religious groups help them get settled across Metro Vancouver. Through there we go through translators and we offer different programs. That’s how we get in contact with them. We don’t have a lot of translated options at this time, but there are a lot groups who offer translations on their sites.
What’s it like teaching those classes?
Sarah: It’s really great! They’re really engaged and they have a lot of unique situations that they encounter which are different than the situations that other groups encounter.
Do we still conduct educational classes with the seniors population?
Sarah: Yes, we provide presentations and presentations for seniors as well as TravelSmart for Seniors. We offer orientations with seniors to provide them with more familiarity with the system and to provide them with more hands on experiences with public transportation.
How do we gauge that we’re doing a good job with our work with seniors?
Sarah: We get a lot of positive feedback from the people we teach. We also get good feedback from settlement agencies. We get emails and call backs from the organizers and they tell us that the participants are really engaged and tell their friends and family about using transit.
Peter: Can I just add that a big victory that we have is able to see the “ah-ha” moment from a senior who has lost their driver’s license and is possibly never been on transit or hasn’t been on transit for forty years. They have a great fear of transit. It’s not a fear that young people or middle-aged people have, but when you get older you have different fears or misconceptions of the system. To be able to go out with a bus or a trainer and have someone like Sarah go onto the vehicle with them to show them how easy it is to trip plan, what the fare media is and where to buy it, how to get on the bus, what to do when the unexpected happens, those kinds of things that many of us take for granted – they don’t. You can see it in their eyes. They light up and they see public transit as an actual viable options for them to get around the city. Now their community gets much larger for them and their quality of life increases.
What do you find is the most challenging part of your job Peter?
Peter: It’s dealing with conflict within the community. It’s also dealing with financially challenging times. We want to make sure we’re spending the tax payers jobs wisely.
And the best part of your job?
Peter: Being able to interact with people who didn’t know the possibilities of public transportation and what TransLink does. Also, knowing the quality of the Access Awareness staff members and the commitment that they have to being part of a team that is dedicate to getting the word out about our accessible system. Seeing one more person use the system that wasn’t able to before makes me feel that what we do is worthwhile.
What are we doing to improve the accessibility of the system in the future?
Peter: Our major long term project is to make sure that our accessibility endeavors are sustainable. That we’re able to look at our custom transit and that we’re able to deliver this with an aging population. That’s a significant challenge when we’re talking about cost containment.
Sarah, what are you looking forward to in terms of accessibility of the system?
Sarah: I would say that it’s TravelSmart for Seniors and immigrants. We can now look for a lot more synergies with other community groups. We can also include other modes of transportation like getting new immigrants involved in cycling and generally increasing their options for mobility.
Thanks to both of you for the time.
Another important date to remember in terms of accessibility is the Bus Stop Hop. The 11th annual race using transit with wheelchairs is August 18, 2012. We’re looking forward to it!