I was trying to get off the bus at the Christchurch Bus Interchange. I got up from my seat, with my cane extended in front of me, and walked down the aisle to exit through the front door of the bus, as I usually do. The driver physically blocked me with their arm and said “No!”
I asked for clarification and the driver repeatedly said to use the back door. By this stage there were people queuing behind me, wanting to exit too.
I informed the driver of the accessibility accommodations for disabled passengers, that allow blind people to use the front door of the bus. The driver finally dropped their arm and said “Go!”
In all my years of travelling by bus, multiple times a week, it has never been an issue to exit via the front door, even during lockdown restrictions. The bus driver's attitude was a real access barrier for me.
Why do I insist on getting off the front of the bus at the interchange? Because there is always gap between most of the bus and the raised interchange platform. It varies in width and is a sharp drop down to the road. However the front door of the parked bus sits over the top of the platform, and the buses can kneel down too if needed. This makes it much easier to step off the bus. Also, there is no tactile paving on the platform at the back door of the bus. There is at the front door however, and it connects up to the main strip of tactile paving at the interchange. The front door exit is simply quicker, safer, and less congested with people ... people being the trickier thing to navigate, as humans aren't predictable.
I am so tired of these sorts of negative encounters. This unpleasant interaction with a bus driver should never have happened. While this is an isolated incident, there have been many similar situations where the attitudes of strangers have been used to question and limit my access to public spaces.
These kinds of incidents stick with you mentally. People with disabilities know that situations like this are going to happen, and you have to mentally prepare for them before going out. Every time. It’s draining.
It's also embarrassing when these incidents occur. Embarrassment, because these situations frame people with access needs as being a problem, often with an audience. It was embarrassing to be treated like this and then have to defend myself, while knowing that others were watching and waiting to get on and off the bus. Its frustrating to be put in that situation, when it never should have occurred.
We need accessibility laws to reinforce disabled persons' access to accommodations, and the dignity we should be shown while using them.
This is a story about the barriers many face. We're sharing it because we want a law that puts accessibility at the heart of an inclusive Aotearoa New Zealand.