A group of activists for disabled rights steered their wheelchairs into Greyhound's downtown terminal Monday afternoon, disrupting busy Labor Day bus travel in an attempt to pressure the transit giant into improving access for the disabled.
The half-hour show of civil disobedience ended with police hoisting three protesters into the back of a police van. Moments earlier, their wheelchairs had been backed against the fenders of departing buses, their voices raised in singing "We Shall Overcome."
"Don't you think it would be better to put (wheelchair) lifts on buses than arrest us?" protester Bill Bolte told a Greyhound representative minutes before Bolte was arrested. "We can send people to the moon, but we can't put lifts on buses, right?"
Greyhound Accused of Discrimination
The installation of wheelchair lifts--common on many public transit systems--is one goal of the protesters. Accusing Greyhound of discrimination, the members of Americans Disabled for Access to Public Transportation said they also object to the company's policy of requiring attendants to travel with disabled passengers, of refusing to carry motorized wheelchairs with wet cell batteries and of providing only $250 in liability insurance for wheelchairs that may cost thousands of dollars.
A Greyhound representative in Los Angeles referred all questions to officials in the corporate headquarters in Dallas. The corporate office was closed Monday. Previously, Greyhound officials have emphasized what they call a "helping hands" policy that allows attendants of wheelchair passengers to ride for free.
"That's not dignified," protester Yvonne Nau said of Greyhound's policy. Lifts on public bus systems have allowed thousands to travel metropolitan areas without assistance, protesters said.
One protester carried a sign labeling Greyhound "a dirty dog." Although Greyhound is a private corporation, it travels public roads, they stressed. "Our taxes are paying for (the roads)," Nau said.
After being taken to the Police Department's Central Division station, protesters Bolte, Lillibeth Navarro and Don Persina were cited for blocking a sidewalk and released.
The demonstration by about 30 people was a small skirmish in the long-running war over increasing access for the disabled. Legislation recently introduced in Washington would require all carriers to install wheelchair lifts.
Last Labor Day, Bolte and other protesters were arrested in a similar demonstration at the Greyhound station. In March of 1988, ADAPT members were arrested for chipping away at the raised curbs on a stretch of Hollywood Boulevard they have dubbed "The Walk of Shame." Despite promises from City Hall, curb cuts giving them access to the sidewalks still have not been made, the activists said.
The youngest protester, 14-year-old Ryan Duncanwood, called Monday's protest a success. Unable to speak, Ryan answered questions with a computer printer attached to his motorized wheelchair.
"He has cerebral palsy," his mother, Karen, explained. "But mostly he's a victim of discrimination."