A Montreal man who gets around in a wheelchair says the STM is socially profiling him. Luke Donovan has a custom-made wheelchair that isn’t necessarily compatible with bus procedures. As a result, he says he’s been repeatedly humiliated in public.
And now he is demanding change.
Donovan, 33, has been in a wheelchair for half his life. Nearly 17 years ago, he broke his back while skiing,.
“At 16 years old, I fell on my head from 25 feet,” Donovan explained.
Donovan’s wheelchair is modified to respond to his personal needs. It’s smaller than an average one, which helps him better navigate tighter spaces. He’s also removed the brakes from his chair after he felt they were responsible for a thumb injury he sustained.
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“My push-through with my arms, they end up right in the same region as where the brakes would be,” he said.
Donovan seems to glide around with ease, but when he gets on the city bus to get to work, things get complicated.
He filmed an argument with an STM bus driver and then the driver’s supervisor earlier this week. The issue is the way Donovan sits on the bus.
“I’ve had so many humiliating situations with the STM,” he said.
According to STM policy, when a wheelchair user gets on the bus, they must sit in the designated area facing the back of the bus with their brakes applied. Donovan does not have brakes, so he feels safer sitting with his wheels facing the side of the bus to avoid rolling forward or back. He thinks the rules should change.
“I feel I’m being socially profiled and beaten down with that procedure. I’ve seen monster strollers, with two to three kids on them that were much bigger than myself, and they’re not forced to assume the position,” he said.
In a statement to Global News, the STM said their wheelchair boarding procedure is vital for the safety of all users, and that the SAAQ’s rules on the matter are not open to interpretation.
Wheelchair rights advocate Laurent Morissette agrees with the STM.
“It’s not a question of being forced to follow a rule, it’s a question of security,” said Morissette, a spokesperson for RAPLIQ.
There are no accessible metro stations close to Donovan’s workplace. He says waiting an hour to be picked up by the STM’s adapted bus service doesn’t make sense.
“Is it not against some aspect of your rights to have a bus driver force you take a position on public transit that you’re not comfortable to take?” he wonders.
Donovan doesn’t want to change his wheelchair, or where he lives — but feels he might have to.
“If there’s not infrastructure to accommodate, I’ll just have to choose another city,” he said.