The right to bear bus: New shuttle buses, ill-equipped for off-campus travel, hinders handicap accessibility

By Kevin Graham

As someone with a disability, I don’t think I speak out of turn when I say that most of my disabled peers just want a fair shot at inclusion in as many activities as possible.

In my short time on this planet, I’ve been skiing, played baseball in an organized league and I write on midnight deadlines routinely for the school newspaper.

I can do most anything I put my mind to. I just do it a little differently. If you give me a shot, chances are I will figure out some way to participate. Scratch that. Not just participate contribute in a meaningful way.

Being someone who believes strongly in the spirit of inclusion, I was probably as excited as anyone when I found out that Student Congress was working with administration to bring two new wheelchair lift equipped Bear Bus vehicles to campus.

For this reason, I find myself shaking my head when I hear that these vehicles do not yet have the same capability to go off campus as their smaller, inaccessible van companions.

Nick Desrochers, the Bear Bus Coordinator in the university housing department, said he is working with university risk management in order to make sure they are 100 percent in compliance with Michigan law before letting them off campus.

“In speaking with the risk management department on campus, as well as the driving school that was used to train our drivers, there are additional steps that we, as the employer of the Bear Bus, need to take to ensure we are in compliance with Michigan law when our shuttles leave campus,” Desrochers said.

The issue appears to be temporary and hindsight is 20/20. Still, they should have been able to look into this to determine exactly what the parameters were before ever getting the shuttles.

This may not seem like a huge deal. I’m sure most students think of the Bear Bus as that all too seldom-used short ride to get them from the Vandenberg Hall to the O’rena on short notice. No need to go off campus for that.

However, the Bear Bus is made available for student organizations to rent for day trips. I know, had this been available to my Society of Professional Journalists group last fall, it might have been an attractive option.

Now that the university has such things, it’s a shame to see them bound up in red tape.

It isn’t just student organizations, either. The buses are being used for weekly escapades to the local fast food joints. Don’t get me wrong, Chartwells is fine, but occasionally it’s nice to have the option of something different.

Ask anyone in my situation and they will tell you there’s a difference between living and living. The former involves the mere act of drawing a breath on this planet.

The latter is much more exciting. It involves making friends, experiencing new things, forgetting all the obstacles and just doing something because at any given moment we might want to.

These buses, in their own small way, could help someone like me do a little more living. I’m sure I wouldn’t be the first student to think about going to Taco Bell for “Fourth Meal” after their Thursday night class.

I applaud all the players involved for their efforts, but half inclusion does not equal inclusion. Let’s take the next step. Let’s live.

Contact Senior Reporter Kevin Graham via email at [email protected] edu or on Twitter @KevinGraham88.