Is Handi-Transit the Best Option for Grandpa?

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Dear Handi-Transit,

I am extremely proud to introduce to you, my hero. Meet my grandpa, Marvin.

My grandpa will be 89 years this April, and he still lives at home with my grandmother. They are the most incredible people I know, and I love them with all my heart. My cousins and I often comment about how we struck the grandparent lottery. My grandparents (on both sides of my family) are simply incredible. I’m incredibly lucky to be 24 years old and still have three out of four grandparents alive. I thank God every day that they are actively present in my life, and I cherish them dearly.

My grandpa is a prostate and breast cancer survivor.  He worked very hard for Eaton’s in Winnipeg for years as a general manager and retired in 1990.

 

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Photo by the Winnipeg Free Press a few years back. He was unaware of the photo being taken, and we did not know about it until it appeared on the Winnipeg Free Press website. So funny.

Since his retirement, my grandpa enjoys gardening and maintaining his yard. He is the family gardener, weather man, carpenter, handyman – the list goes on. He wears many hats in our family.

My grandpa was diagnosed with macular degeneration while I was in elementary school. If you are not familiar with macular, it is a condition where a small portion of the retina, known as the macula, deteriorates. It is the leading cause of severe vision loss in people over 60. My grandpa used to see using his peripheral vision because there was a black centre when looking straight ahead. Then he couldn’t see colours. When the television was on, he would often ask “is that show in black and white?”. We tried everything to salvage my grandpa’s sight. He endured painful clinic trial injections directly into his eye in order to slow the progression. It helped for awhile, which made the excruciating experience worthwhile.

His sight slowly started to deteriorate more and more, and the injections were failing. At the age of 85, my grandpa willingly gave up his driver’s license. My grandpa is technically legally blind though you’d never know it. This is not supposed to be a doom and gloom letter about my grandpa, his quality of life is excellent. My grandpa loves to live his life to the fullest alongside my grandma. He has limited vision but he manages. He notices when I change my hair, or when I buy a new dress. We are extremely grateful for this.

Since he surrendered his license, he relies strictly on family and Handi-Transit (handy-dandy is what my grandma calls it) for transportation since my grandmother does not drive. They use your service for trips to the grocery store, bank, doctors appointments, and any other essential.

My grandparents used to rave about your service. They loved getting picked up right in front of their home and dropped off at their desired location. They felt a sense of independence from it, I assume. They would be able to arrange rides and live a normal life without asking for rides from kids or grandkids. Not that we don’t enjoy helping them out, in fact, we prefer it! But, we understand that they want their sense of independence, and they deserve it. My grandparents are healthy otherwise, so we as a family trusted your service for my grandparents. We never had any complaints. My grandparents were happy so we were happy. Grandpa walks with a cane but his mobility is otherwise fine. Grandma watches him and all is well. We always trusted your drivers to make sure they were offered a safe experience.

A couple weeks ago, my grandparents were using your service to go to the bank.

The driver arrived at their home in a car and did not get out of the car to help my legally blind grandpa get into the car.  Strike one in my eyes, but my grandparents are not the type to complain. They don’t really expect it anyway. My grandma recalls the driver as not very friendly or talkative, which she said was unusual. But, they went with it.

The way I understand it, the person that requests the service is the one that is supposed to be receiving the help. In this case, my grandpa was supposed to be the one helped to the car as my grandma is not the one who needs the service. They both got into the car on their own and they were on the way to the bank.

The driver arrived at the bank and did not make a move to get out of the car to help my grandpa out of the vehicle. So, my grandpa started the process of getting out of the car. Opening the door, stepping one foot out and then the next, and then closing the door. As my grandpa closed the door behind him, he lost his footing on the ice. His cane slipped from underneath him, and my grandpa fell backwards onto his back and hit his head on the way down. His glasses were thrown off his face and landed a few feet away from him.

The driver then drove away. He did not even make the effort to get out of the car to check on my grandfather’s safety.

I am extremely grateful for two ladies in the parking lot who helped stand my grandfather up and ensured he was okay. Remarkably, my grandpa did not break any bones or suffer severe injuries. He had a few bumps and bruises and was extremely sore during the days that followed, but that is not the point. This should have never happened in the first place.

My grandmother called your office to make a complaint, but she told me she was brushed off. My grandparents are absolutely terrified to take further this complaint because they are scared of retaliation from the driver. My grandma said the following words, verbatim: “What happens if he comes in the middle of the night and breaks my windows because I complained.” My grandparents are terrified because this is the last sense of independence they have. They still want to continue using your service, but I am terrified at the thought of this. If this is the treatment we are supposed to expect from Handi-Transit drivers, why are we subjecting Winnipeg’s most vulnerable to this type of treatment?

I was curious about whether or not this was an isolated case, and by a quick Google search, I  was able to find many issues that have gone to the media about your service. A human rights complaint being at the top of the list. Here are my sources.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/handi-transit-at-centre-of-ombudsman-human-rights-complaints-1.3461079

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/winnipeg-s-handi-transit-service-so-frustrating-says-rider-1.3411211

I was curious about the hiring process of your drivers and the training. So I made a call to your office on April 5, 2016, and the services representative assurred me that all drivers are trained to work with people with exceptionalities. She even said that drivers just finished a class with Society for Manitobans with Disabilities, and have informational training to work with the clients they serve. She said Handi-Transit drivers service people with physical and mental disabilities and “…people who cannot use regular transit safely.”

How to become a Handi-Transit driver document

I am not looking for grandiose measures to ensure this never happens again. I am simply looking for peace of mind when it comes to trusting my grandparents with your drivers. An apology wouldn’t hurt as well.  I have been in a Handi-Transit vehicle a handful of times before with my 93 year old grandmother in 2013, and the service was a little shoddy I must admit. Some experiences have been more pleasant than others, but there have been occasions where I considered the driver to be driving dangerously – speeding, playing with the radio and talking loudly on a blue tooth headset have been a few of the concerns I have observed.  Also, the cleanliness of the vehicles have been sub-par (which is also listed as a driver responsibility according to your website). After this incident with my grandfather, I can confidently say that I do not trust your staff to be alone with my elderly grandparents.

You can do better Handi-Transit, you can do so much better.

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A Simple Act of Kindness at a Gas Station

 

It was around 6 a.m., I had an early start that particular day. Usually, my days begin around 10 a.m. due to the fact that I am not a morning person by any means, but I digress.

I got into my car, and I realized that not only was my gas tank on empty, but I was completely out of windshield washer fluid. I drove to the closest Shell on Henderson Highway and got out of the car to fill up my tank at the self-serve pump. The Shell must have just opened because the lone female employee was putting out the squeegees for the day at all the gas pumps.

“Good morning,” I said to her as she was placing the squeegee at my pump.

No response.

Alright then. It was dark and the morning commute had just begun. Maybe she was tired or didn’t hear me, whatever.

I proceeded to fill up my tank and then walked inside to pay. I also picked up windshield washer fluid on the way inside.

I paid for my gas and fluid and went outside to pop the hood and fill up the empty reservoir. It was very cold that day, the usual February frigid temperatures in Winnipeg. I did not have any gloves, and my hands were struggling to open the bottle.

I walked back inside and turned to the lady behind the counter.

“I know this may sound silly but my hands are so cold and I cannot open the bottle, do you think you could help me out?” I asked.

“No. I can’t do that for you,” she said sharply back at me.

I was a little confused but I got over it.

“Oh, okay that’s fine then. I’ll figure something out,” I said as I grabbed the bottle off the counter and started to walk my way towards the door. I thought maybe it was some kind of policy that they couldn’t open products for customers. I knew I could do it myself once my hands warmed up anyway.

It was then she begrudgingly told me to hang on before I walked out the door.

I walked back to the counter, and she took a key and cracked open the bottle for me. She untwisted it for me and left the top on the counter. I thanked her for opening the bottle and reached out to take the windshield washer fluid off the counter.

As I picked it up and started to make my way out the door for the second time she says to me:

“Don’t drink it.”

I looked at her in confusion and mumbled to her that I wouldn’t drink it or something along the lines of that. It was 6 a.m., I was still pretty tired and cold. I filled up my washer fluid and got in the car to start my day.

Just a note, I’ve never attempted to swallow windshield washer fluid. I’m not sure if she said this out of legit concern or is it was a smart aleck comment. Judging by the tone of the entire conversation, I’m leaning towards the latter.

The more I thought about it, the more ridiculous the whole interaction became to me. I told my mom and my boyfriend about it, and we all had a good chuckle and moved on. I know drinking toxic fluids is nothing to be laughed about, but it was kind of funny.

Weeks passed, and again I was low on gas and fluid. I was probably driving around with low fluid for weeks, but couldn’t be bothered to fill it until I needed gas again. The spring thaw started, and I definitely could not see a darn thing out of my windshield.

I stopped at the Petro-Canada location on Henderson Highway on the way to my boyfriend’s house for a dinner.

The gas pump is a self-serve, insert the credit card and go. So I did.

But I needed fluid, so I went inside with a purple bottle of fluid and put it on the counter.

“Hey sweetie how are you doing tonight?” the lady at the counter said to me.

“I’m good, thanks for asking,” I said smiling, clearly remembering my last encounter at a gas station for washer fluid.

As I was tapping my credit card on the machine when she said to me,

“Can I open the bottle for you?”

I stood there, kind of in a state of disbelief. It was not a cold day, and I did not ask for her to open it.

“I’d really like that actually, thank you that’s kind of you to do.”

Then it got even better.

“Do you need help putting it into your car? Someone can come out and help you,” she said to me smiling as she placed one of those cones on the counter that are meant for making the pouring easier (there was also a line behind me, I was not the only one paying).

I did not accept the offer, but I thanked her graciously as I walked out the door with the cone and the fluid. Filled my car and was on my way.

The simple act of kindness of taking the time to go the extra mile made my weekend. Every time I got into my car and cleaned my windows, I was reminded of her kind efforts. It’s a small thing just to open a bottle, but it is one less thing that I had to do. I appreciate it. I’m not sure if she thought I was unable to do it myself, but I greatly appreciated the gesture regardless.

What I know for sure is the next time you have the opportunity to go the extra mile, even by doing something small like opening a bottle for someone, do it. It sometimes can make all the difference.