Metrolinx has apologized for an incident in which an Oakville man says he and his daughter, who has epilepsy, were denied a ride on an accessibility railcar Sunday.
Cuong Ly was attempting to board the westbound GO train at Exhibition station with his eight-year-old daughter Pepper. The Ly family was returning home from an outing at the Canadian National Exhibition.
“All of a sudden, they let on some wheelchairs…and moments later they come and say, ‘Sorry, the coach is full, you’re going to have to wait for the next train,'” said Cuong, who told Global News there was adequate room inside to accommodate the pair.
His wife Stephanie and 10-year-old son were already stationed inside the accessibility car, having entered from the opposite side moments earlier.
“He was told it was full but it was clearly not full,” Stephanie told Global News, questioning why a GO Transit employee would have declined to allow her husband and daughter inside.
As the train car’s doors closed, Stephanie and her son were still onboard; Cuong quickly passed his keys to a GO Transit employee so she could get into the car at the parking lot in Mississauga.
Pepper has epilepsy, global developmental delay, and is not verbal. She can’t walk. Her parents use a specially-designed wheelchair that resembles a stroller to move her about.
Some people may not realize Pepper has a disability.
“There are disabilities that are invisible. We need to be compassionate,” said David Charchalis, COO of Epilepsy South Central Ontario.
Charchalis says if someone is in doubt about whether a person has a disability, there’s nothing wrong in asking directly, especially when someone needs accommodation.
“Why not ask, ‘What’s the child’s disability? What’s your disability?’ Create a conversation,” he said.
Cuong says when he and his daughter attempted to board the very next train to Port Credit, a second GO Transit employee also questioned whether she needed to board on the accessibility railcar.
“I told the gentleman this is a wheelchair for my disabled daughter, and he apologized and said, ‘We’ll try to get you on,'” said Cuong, who was finally allowed on that train with Pepper.
Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins, who also has epilepsy, said GO Transit staff are trained to spot persons with disabilities.
“Some of those disabilities are invisible, like epilepsy. I live with epilepsy and I know it’s a challenge sometimes that I have to say it aloud to people to let them know that I have epilepsy. It must have been difficult for this family,” Aikins said, adding the incident is under investigation.
“This is an opportunity for us to learn, to improve, to get better and we will certainly do that.”