Access Awareness Day  was last Saturday, but TransLink has been focusing on accessible transit all last week and into this week with public events like the one at Metrotown tomorrow , June 8 at 10a.m. – 2p.m., and the Seniors Transit Program on June 9 and 16  from 9a.m. to 3p.m.
As part of our accessibility focus, I wanted to chat with someone who uses a wheelchair and knows our transportation system intimately. Brad Jacobsen is with the BC Paraplegic Association’s Peer Program . He’s also the creator of the Bus Stop Hop, an annual event that teams up able-bodied people with people who use mobility aids to partake in an Amazing Race-style competition on public transit.
It’s a pretty cool race with an aim to help people in need of accessible transit overcome their fear of it and for able-bodied people to better understand what accessible transit is all about.
Here is an excerpt from our conversation:
Brad, tell me about your injury and what happened afterwards.
I broke my neck on the May Long Weekend in 1994 in a diving accident. I dove into a glacier river in Pemberton trying to get a Frisbee. I was instantly paralyzed and left floating in the spring run off. I was able to hold my breath until a friend got me. My life took a different direction after that. I was 24 and was just accepted into BCIT’s broadcast journalism program and was thinking of becoming a teacher one day.
You know, when I finally realized what had happened, I faced my challenge head on. I thought I could overcome my disability. So I just pushed myself and did as much as I could as fast as I could. I moved out as soon as I finished rehabilitation, I got my own place and I got a job with BC Ferries.
Tell me about the challenges you face with mobility.
Working at BC Ferries, I worked eight days on/four days off without the use of the HandyDart system. At the time, it was difficult to get across boundaries, so I had to use accessible transit, which back in 1994 was still new. Not all the buses were accessible. Often, I had to wait for long periods of time when buses were full or broken down. I was often the first in line, but I wouldn’t be able to get on when the able bodied people behind me could. My eight-hour days at work were 11 hours if there weren’t any problems. Managing all the things you have to do as a quadriplegic with a spinal cord injury and being at work… was challenging but worth it.
What’s the Bus Stop Hop all about?
One of the main challenges with trying to have events was people [with physical challenges] saying that they can’t get there. There was always the excuse of no transportation, yet right under our noises was this amazing transportation system.
We were always trying to do creative things, trying to make people learn and gain confidence in a fun way. That was about the time when the Amazing Race was popular on TV, so we created an event that took the mystique out of the transit system. We got people in wheelchairs paired with a peer in a wheelchair, along with people from TransLink and a friend or family member to make teams of four. They race around the city in four different modes of transportation. Three modes are directly related to TransLink, the SeaBus, SkyTrain, and the bus system. We also incorporated the Aquabus in False Creek. We created this fun scavenger hunt/race around Metro Vancouver including Burnaby, Metrotown, and UBC. We’re going to have 15 teams this year. All the trolley buses have been accessible since 2008, so that makes the race even bigger [than earlier years]. Now, we also incorporate the Canada Line.
In this 10th year, we want to invite more executives and community partners. In the past, we have had a lot of participation from upper management at TransLink.
When is it this year?
This year it will be on August 7th, 2011. We’ll have some people who competed last year and some new people. We’ll have some people who are very competitive and some that just want to overcome their fears and just get on a bus. Having someone get on a bus on a crowded weekend along with able-bodied people can illustrates the difficulties people with physical challenges have when using transit.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, Brad!
Brad told me that the teams for this year’s Bus Stop Hop have not yet been finalized, so do check out the Bus Stop Hop page  on the BC Paraplegic Association  website. And remember that if you’d like to try out getting on a bus in a wheelchair or using a bike rack, come on down to Metrotown tomorrow, June 8, 2011, for the accessible bus trail  between 10AM and 2PM. See you there!