Alisha Dicks, CBC News
Posted: Nov 18, 2021
Living with a disability can sometimes be frustrating, expensive and isolating. But, as the CBC’s Alisha Dicks knows, it’s so much more than that. Her disability has taught her to think creatively and look at things from a different perspective. In her new series, Access with Alisha, she gives us a look into her life and helps break down barriers for others.
Recent record high gas prices are hitting people across Newfoundland and Labrador right in their bank accounts, but for people with disabilities, especially outside St. John’s, the cost of transportation is even higher – and sometimes there’s no access to transportation at all.
St. John’s GoBus accessible transit is subsidized by the city, and costs customers $2.50 each way, or $5 for a round trip. But GoBus covers only St. John’s and Mount Pearl, leaving people with disabilities elsewhere dependent on alternative transportation that often comes with a hefty price tag as well as limited choices and hours.
While obtaining my bachelor of arts degree at Memorial University from 2013 to 2020, I was reliant on transportation to and from MUN as I didn’t have a wheelchair van. My mode of transportation is a power wheelchair, which is too heavy and too big to be transported in a regular vehicle.
The specialty transportation service I used cost $54 for a round-trip. For three trips a week, that equals $162 a week – or $648 a month just for transportation. At the time I was receiving $256 twice a month from the assistance program for disabilities, which didn’t cover all of the transportation cost or my bills.
As a result of this financial stress and strain, it took me five and half years to complete a four-year program because I was trying to fit a semester’s worth of classes in two or three days a week because that was all I could afford for transportation, even as I was scrimping and saving to go to school. My books cost anywhere from $300 to $500 and my tuition ranged from $1,200 to $2,000. My parents were in a bracket where I didn’t qualify for student loans.
Employment limited due to transportation problems
I debated getting a part-time job but then would have needed transportation to get me to work three or four days a week. The money I would make would have only covered the cost to get to work, leaving me no better off. I also would have run the risk of having my accessibility funding cut off as you cannot have any more than $1,000 in your bank account at any given time or your funding gets cut.
Even though the assistance program didn’t cover all my costs, it was something. In 2016 my mom was no longer able to work because of health issues, leaving my dad the only income provider in the house, making financial stress an even bigger issue.
I’m extremely lucky that my father was able to make a van wheelchair-accessible for me, but transportation is still a concern, for a couple of reasons. The first is independence: not wanting to have to rely completely on my dad. He works a full-time job, so there are times that I would like to go places but he simply can’t. When I begin substitute teaching in a couple of weeks, if I don’t get called the night before or in the morning, then I will miss out on hours of work if I get called in midday, and whatever I would make for those couple of hours I can be there will be spent on transportation.
Ashley Martin, 35, is a woman with cerebral palsy who has also experienced hardships due to the high cost of transportation outside St. John’s. Martin decided a number of years ago to move out of her family home in Logy Bay, she said, so she could have affordable accessible transportation.
When she was younger, Martin said, transportation wasn’t such an issue because her parents took her from place to place – but when you get older you don’t want your parents to have to take you everywhere.
Martin said one would think Logy Bay would be covered by paratransit because it’s only five minutes away from St. John’s but it isn’t.
A lack of access to transportation can have major effects on someone’s emotional, social and mental health; for Martin, it was very isolating, she said.
“Limited transportation was one more isolating thing,” she said. “Having a disability and all those things is isolating in itself and then having limited access to transportation added it to that.”
The lack of transportation not only limited Martin’s ability to work from a cost perspective, she said, but suggested to her employer she might not be capable of taking on the position she applied for.
“Independence is so important, even the illusion of independence for maintaining employment,” she said. “There’s nothing worse than having your mom and dad in the waiting room while you’re in an interview in your 20s. It was a factor in how I presented myself.”
Affordable, accessible transportation is a huge factor in obtaining and maintaining employment for people with disabilities, said Martin. She said would have to pay $50 to get to work and back home each day, five days a week, so her salary would have to be substantial to offset just the cost of transportation – never mind other living expenses.
Alisha Young, 24, of Springdale, in central Newfoundland, has arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, which affects her muscles and joints, leaving her dependent on a power wheelchair to get from place to place.
Young said Springdale used to have a volunteer accessible transportation system but it no longer exists because of a lack of volunteers and demand – unfortunate for her, she said, because she would use it all the time.
She would love for the town to bring it back, because her power chair is her only means of transportation – in all kinds of weather conditions.
“I’ve had to go to the grocery store and it was pouring down rain, and when I would get home my clothes would be so wet, they would be stuck to me,” she said. “I don’t have the ability to hold an umbrella. Even if I did it doesn’t really fix the issue.”
People with disabilities who use power chairs or other mobility aids should have access to the same things as people who don’t use them, said Young.
“We have a taxi service but I’m not able to use that service. I should have access to taxi service,” she said. “We are people too and it’s important to consider how that affects people.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alisha Dicks has a bachelor of arts in English and history from Memorial University and a bachelor of intermediate secondary education, and is enrolled in Memorial’s bachelor of special education program. She is particularly focused on accessibility and inclusive education, and is currently working as an associate producer for CBC N.L. in St. John’s.