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How new project shows people with disabilities how to ride HSR

Intended to foster independence among Hamiltonians with special needs, a city-funded pilot project saw 151 residents with intellectual disaibilities learn how to ride the HSR.

City-funded trial saw residents with intellectual disabilities learn how to use the HSR

A recently completed pilot project has left the city with a step-by-step curriculum for instructing residents with intellectual disabilities on how to ride the bus.

Lucy Yu, like hundreds of other Hamilton students graduating high school this spring, is easing into a life of increasing independence. 

But for the Ancaster resident that has meant acquiring a set of skills that many teens already take for granted.

A special needs student in the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board, Yu is one of 151 who have completed a city-sponsored pilot project to teach individuals with intellectual disabilities to ride the bus by themselves.

Project coordinator Michelle Martin, who is set to deliver a presentation on the subject at the city’s public works committee on Monday, explained that the trial that wrapped up earlier this spring was approved by council in 2011 and administered by the Salvation Army’s Lawson Ministries.

Armed with a $400,000 grant from city hall, Lawson Ministries developed a detailed curriculum on how to use public transit and enlisted social service workers from across Hamilton to guide clients through one-on-one training.

The educational resources, which are being passed along to the city, include a series of step-by-step videos produced by local media company Airborne Video Productions.

Riding the bus represents a routine, even thoughtless, task for many individuals. But for people with developmental delays, Martin said, checking the HSR schedule, getting on at the right stop and paying in exact change is no simple feat.

“We take a lot for granted about riding a bus and riding it safely or just travelling in the community safely,” she said. “It involves a lot of thought and lot of deductive reasoning.”

Trainers taught students about the hidden complexities of navigating the bus system, spelling out the component parts of each step in the process.

“You look at the task of walking to the bus stop,” Martin said. “You break that down to walking to safest place on the sidewalks… and obeying all the signs.”

The program also covered tricky social terrain such as whom riders should approach if they need assistance, or what to do when they encounter service animals while in transit.

“We addressed things like etiquette for folks who are using mobility devices on the bus,” she said. “And people to need to know that you don’t pet or feed a guide dog.”

After completing the instructional portion of the program, students practised their skills in the field, journeying with their trainers along routes that they had mapped out in advance.

Of the 201 students who enrolled in the program over the last two years, 50 didn’t graduate, said Martin.

Some participants dropped out of the program.

In other cases, trainers felt that particular students wouldn’t be able to ride the bus safely by themselves.

'Now, my parents don't have to drive me'

The ultimate goal of the program, Martin said, is to foster independence among Hamiltonians with special needs.

I feel like it gives her some control of her life instead of depending on us.—Jian Yu, Lucy's father

After her stint in the bus-training program last year, Yu — who, according to her father, Jian, has the mental capacity of a 10-year-old — can take the bus to the mall or to a volunteer placement with an organization that helps children who have cleft lips or palates.

“I feel like it gives her some control of her life instead of depending on us,” Jian said. “We can drive her places, but she likes that she can go places by herself.”

Knowing how to ride the bus will also aid Yu as she begins classes at Mohawk College next year, her father said. She has enrolled to study in a cooperative education that teaches job and life skills to students with special needs.

Yu told CBC Hamilton that she’s excited to start at Mohawk in the fall and said she appreciates not having to rely on others to get where she needs to go.

“Now, my parents don’t have to drive me,” she said when asked what she felt was the best perk of being able to ride the HSR on her own.

Future of the program

Martin said she hopes the city will use the curriculum to teach more Hamiltonians with developmental delays how to use public transit.

“What I’m doing is providing them with the outcomes of the current project in the hopes that travel training is going forward in the City of Hamilton," she said. "I think it’s an important part of inclusion in the city.”

Jian, too, is hopeful that others will have the same opportunity his daughter did.

“The last time I met with Michelle, [my wife and I] asked if there’s anything we can do to keep the program [running],” he said.

“I think for kids like Lucy, the program is very, very helpful.”

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