Ragged Edge Online Home

Stranded by paratransit, rolling home

by Ed Kemper.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Access activist Ed Kemper recently attended the National Center on Accessibility's 3-day workshop on "Accessibility for Hunting & Fishing Programs and Facilities," put on in conjunction with the USDA Forest Service. The event was held at Sacramento's Vagabond Hotel. The workshop, says the Center's website, would "concentrate on the movement away from minimal accessibility standards and 'specialized' design to the benefits of universal designs..."

On the last day they hire a tour bus to haul us out to see some examples of accessible hunting and fishing. It's a huge fancy bus. The chairlift carries riders about 6 feet up into the bus.

We are supposed to check out before we leave, because we won't be back in time for late checkout. I get up early and pack everything up, check out, and am ready, as instructed, by 7 a.m.

Although neither I nor my chair, a new Omega Trac powerchair from Teftec, is over the weight limit, the chairlift can't lift my chair onto the bus.

The presenters are beside themselves. I tell them it isn't a big deal. I don't want to explode on anyone. But I'm already frustrated. Neither the hotel nor the seminar meeting rooms have been accessible.

I'm supposed to be on a panel discussion that afternoon, but I tell them I'll be leaving now and going home. I have nowhere to wait around while they are gone on their bus tour, and I have no way to get home later in the evening. I told them I won't be able to return for the last parts of the seminar.

When I'd called the day before to arrange my ride home from the hotel, I wasn't able to set up a reservation. Para Transit, Inc. -- the contractor who runs the paratransit service for Sacramento's RT (regional transit authority) -- put me on a waiting list for a few hours, but then I called back as instructed and was told there were no more rides available. I was told I could "call again in the morning" and they'd "try to help me." It was no use. One could never get through the phone lines in the morning.

I can't get onto the tour bus for the field trip. I have no ride home that evening. What to do?

It's not raining, and I think I'm dressed warm enough to be able to make it home driving my power chair. I'm only about 12 miles from home. I had charged my chair the previous afternoon and hadn't driven much since. I am supposed to be able to get about 25 miles to a charge.

So I'll have an adventure.

At 7:30 in the morning I roll away from the Vagabond Hotel, heading for home. I've done some scary shit in my life, but this soon takes the prize. I have to ride in the street for much of the way. Sidewalks simply aren't easy to negotiate, even in my chair; curb ramps are still missing in many places. [put link here to sacramento sidewalk case]

The auto lot run by the state representative has a car blocking the sidewalk at the entrance to the lot. I suspect it's a security measure, to keep anyone from stealing a car off the lot. But it blocks the sidewalk. I have to go out into he street, during rush-hour traffic, to get around the car.

I'm in the street facing oncoming traffic much of the way home.

I'm still a mile away from home when the flashing red light comes on to tell me batteries are almost dead. My speed has slowed to a snail's pace. The only choice I have is a nearby bank. I go in and ask to borrow a plug for about 10 minutes. Just enough to get me home.

The woman I ask has just started learning about disabilities. Her husband became a c-4 quad about 10 months ago. (Some things are meant to happen.) I sit there and charge my battery for what I figure is about 10 minutes, then leave her my name and contact information, and offer any help I can provide her and her husband in the future.

I take off down the sidewalk and get a real education on batteries. I cross the street at an electronic crawl, and by the time I get to the end of the next block -- I'm now only 200 yards from home, all downhill -- I need more juice.

I stop at a Standard Station and ask to borrow a plug "for just 10 minutes." Another gimp-aware woman says "of course!" Turns out her brother-in-law is blind and another family member is in a wheelchair.

After 10 minutes of charge I finally make it home. It's taken nearly 5 hours. I am exhausted. I'm also humiliated that I can't attend the afternoon panel I was supposed to be on. I was supposed to talk about the law and barriers I'd faced to hunting and fishing.

I've tried to book paratransit 3 times since being certified to use it. The first time it never showed. The next time I booked a ride I got one, and got there on time -- but what a hassle!

Then this incident.

They've failed me two out of three times. My attorneys say they're willing to take them on.

This kind of stuff is still happening in California. There's no punishment for stranding disabled people miles from their homes.  It appears to be a local sport in the Capital City.

Every time I've been passed by at a bus stop by one of the RT buses, I call and complain. Every time I'm told "you must stand next to the bus stop sign." I tell them I'm in a wheelchair. They always suggest I wave "vigorously" at the bus.

I wish I could raise my hands over my head and wave at anyone.

Ed Kemper, a retired doctor of chiropractic, has been a specialist on access issues in California for nearly a decade.


Reminds me of the 8-mile trip I made home on my scooter at midnight on a balmy August night in Nashville.

First time I made it in 2 hours. Second time the scooter became possessed, took me downhill at top speed straight for an intersection with no reverse, no brakes, and no stop except to pull the key, and both hands were occupied with steering. Died in front of a Waffle House

But Nashville is/was the same way - no sidewalks, no curb cuts. Hell, some roads didn't even have an inch on the side of the road.

Thanks for reminding me of how glad I am to be in Juneau - here we have curb cuts everywhere and lots of bike paths. I'm pretty sure we were rated the 11th most accessible city in America and the most accessible small city.

Even so, the city received a DOJ 900-page report on all the problems. I wonder how many pages Nashville and Sacramento received. LOL

Don't lose hope Ed, we'll get all the big cities to become accessible and friendly someday...

Here's hoping the "govenator" can actually win the fights that matter to real people. Sorry this happened to you man, I know you don't need sympathy, but I'm out here in MN, I doubt your local rep will put much stock in what I say. But I will write to all of MN in D.C. Viva La Cause.

Thanks for a great trip! Love your writing style! I live here in Cambridge, MA. My City just won "Accessible America 2005" as the Grand Prize Winner! and Cambridge is recognized as a national model for focus on disabilities issues and for successful design of programs, services and facilities.

April Fools!

What I mean is we do not have basic access, even to City Hall, and your story is typical of what we face here in the City of Cambridge.

The biggest problem you, and we, are facing is the attitude barrier. This is simple discrimination. The language of the 60's Civil Rights movement is most appropiate to describe our daily humiliation.

I just dropped by, to see what was happening on the Edge, and found your story. I have posted some expieriences on my blog, describing how my Most Accessible City in America refuses to brovide basic access, never mind serve as a national model! I am taking a break, reading your expierience, and it is great fuel to propell me to put finishing touches on my DOJ complaint. I am tired of asking permission to go in!

Thanks again, for a super story, and a wonderful laugh, not at your humiliation, and pain, but at their bigotry! Time for the federal court, I think.

Hugs, Kathy

I'd like to share a victory from a tiny town where my employer provided me with an accessible company vehicle. In previous jobs, I was used to providing the accessible vehicle and being reimbursed mileage or staying in the office.

Talk about FREEDOM and EMPOWERMENT I've never experienced before! No more cancelling meetings and speeches cuz I don't have a ride or transportation that is accessible.

"It appears to be a local sport in the Capital City."

Thanks for the laugh!

BTW, occasionally I'll find an access symbol next to an inaccessible entrance, and I figure they're inside watching, and laughing, same deal.

Thanks much for writing this. I'm an employee with a State Department HQed in Downtown Sac. I'm passing it on to our planning people as further demonstration that disabled staff cannot depend upon RT or Paratranit for getting to work. (Currently, disabled staff who can't stand for over an hour on RT have to either park on the street or pay over $1,000 a year for parking in order to be able to get to work. Wheelchair users in particular can be stranded when Lite Rail's over their "wheelchair" limit. And, then there are the lifts that don't work at the stations. And, the increased risk of violence to disabled people around Downtown RT facilities.

Please, please take 'em on. In fact, there are probably enough disabled people who've been stranded by RT/Paratransit (or not been able to keep jobs!) to put together a tidy little class action suit. And, let the newsletter readers know if you need some cash for the "defense fund."

The opinions expressed herein are my own, and, unfortunately, do not reflect those of the State of California as an entity.


> I'm passing it on to our planning people

I mean no disrespect here but if your planning people don’t already know what I wrote they are part of the problem. They will never be the solution. They don’t know the subject and don’t have a “real” ADA Coordinator or a "real" Transition Plan.

> (Currently, disabled staff who can't stand for over an hour on RT

Why would someone need to stand for an hour if the public transportation system was accessible? This makes it sound like we are the problem when the problem is the system isn't accessible. And they still don't know it.

> Wheelchair users in particular can be stranded when Lite Rail's over their "wheelchair" limit.

That is not the usual problem. However it’s only 15-20 minutes for the next train. Those of us that are disabled don’t schedule things that close. We should know better.

> And, then there are the lifts that don't work at the stations.

They don’t have anyone with the appropriate knowledge or applicable skills. They don’t know what a barrier is. I hope I will change that.

> Please, please take 'em on.

I am. I've learn a lot about just how inaccessible para transit is.

> there are probably enough disabled people . . . class action suit.

I find it is easier to control the case when I’m able to address the problems myself. I’m not very supportive of class action lawsuits. We have to give up far too much for the limited benefits we gain. The Sacramento Sidewalk case is the perfect example. They gained 30 extra years to comply and they still don't build compliant new curb ramps.

> The opinions expressed herein are my own, and, unfortunately, do not reflect those of the State of California as an entity.

Duh! At least you know the subject. That’s way ahead of our state’s experts. Remember the Department of Rehabilitation has over a $325,000,000 budget and even fund an “ADA Implementation Unit” in charge of counseling cities and counties on how to become accessible yet they don’t have one accessible community office in the vast Sacramento region. Want to know why we're still fighting for our lives? 98% of those addressing our wants and needs are non-disabled. That's the ugly truth in government.

Keep fighting my friend. Perhaps one day we’ll be able to get to, and enjoy a cup of coffee together. Since we live so close. Ed

Well written. Unfortunately, you're preaching to the choir. This needs to be read by government officials and by the general public.


It's a sad state of affairs that for so long we've fought and fought to obtain the access we need and still haven't seemed to make a dent. (Not trying to be pessimistic but very few cities or areas are accessible, that'a fact).

As far as Paratransit, yours truly used to live in Sacramento and it hasn't changed I see. Here in So. Cal. it's called Dial-A-Ride and once I was stranded. Another time 4 bus drivers drove by, waving and honking their horns at me and kept on going. Livid is an understatement. That day it was over 100 degrees and with the meds, heat doesn't bode well. So, like you, the only way to get home was to travel by wheelchair. Now the street was one of those very busy streets and it had absolutely "no" sidewalks whatsover--not even bad ones. Horns honking, people yelling out their windows and cars just barely missing me.

From the above comments, as you can see, we are not alone. This is all across the U.S. with an exception of a very few places.

The comment above about this being read by our Government official and the general public I don't think will change anything either. Again, it sounds pessimistic but look how many years have gone by and there's so many of us. Some killed and yet nothing is being done in the way of repairs.

On a good note: At least you didn't get pulled over by the cops! :) Seriously, I did 3 times and others have also. Mary had a whole page up here a few times showing all the cases. Hope it comes up again, then you too could possibly be added to the stories.

Welcome to the scary world of driving on the streets in our wheelchairs. We really do need to keep printing these and I, for one, thank you for telling your plight. Not just on the hairy ride home but the other issues you brought up also.

On one in particular I had gone to a City Council meeting. The City Council forgot to show up on my first go around.

The second one was held in a School District building. Halfway through the meeting everyone stopped to eat cake for it was the City Manager's birthday and I headed for the restroom. Only to find it inaccessible.

This was mentioned, along with the 80 pics I had brought with me, on a one to one meeting with the City Manager. He promised changes in the sidewalk/curb cut issues and also for accessible restrooms.

They tarred the streets and in my naive way I honestly thought they were doing something for the sidewalks also. Nope. Tarring the streets made matters worse for they tarred them at least 2 inches above any curb cuts (that were already not ADA approved) making getting onto the sidewalk (the entire one block of sidewalk only) inaccessible. Even though those sidewalks were bad, that wet tar with the sudden drop off of inches was worse on these narrow roads.

Sorry you didn't even get a chance to speak. This is deplorable how they treat us. Go through with the legal action and many of us are rooting for you. Hope you win or at least make them mindful that we will take action in other manners besides complaint in person, and other such things.

With Arnold as our governator, (oh I'll be glad when he's gone), it's seems to me to be getting tougher in California. Maybe that's just me though.

Good Luck! And realize you're not alone. Many of us are with you.

Post comment

(All entries are checked for inappropriate content before they appear on the site. Thanks for waiting.)

Powered by
Movable Type 3.2
Email this page to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):