[Nfbc-info] Blind couple barred from bus

Frida Aizenman nfbfrida at gmail.com
Wed Dec 31 01:48:31 UTC 2014

A Little Bit of Inspiring History:

*Blindness: The Coming of the Third Generation *

An Address Delivered by Kenneth Jernigan
President, National Federation of the Blind
At the Banquet of the Annual Convention
Kansas City, Missouri, July 3, 1986

When Terry McManus rode on a city bus and the driver and the other 
passengers tried to make him play the part of the helpless blind man, he 
remembered---and refused. Here is his letter:

I am writing to relate a blatant incident of discrimination which 
occurred against me on Tuesday, January 14, 1986. I think you will find 
it strikingly similar to the outrages blind people have experienced at 
the hands of airline officials.

On that afternoon at about 5:15 I boarded a standing- room-only Port 
Authority Transit Bus. Just as I stepped through the door, the driver 
shouted, "Handicapped passenger; give him a seat." I explained to him 
that blindness did not in any way limit my ability to stand, that I had 
good balance and preferred to stand. At this he became quite irate and 
proclaimed that if I didn't immediately take a seat, he would not move 
the bus. calmly told him that I would continue to stand. He began 
apologizing to the passengers for the inconvenience I was causing them. 
Then, he spotted a supervisor on the street and got off to consult with 
him. Meanwhile, the other passengers began bitterly attacking me, 
calling me "crazy," "inconsiderate," "ignorant," "arrogant," and a few 
other things which are not printable. One man sarcastically said that he 
hoped I would sleep well that night. I tried to explain to them that it 
was not I, but the driver, who was inconveniencing them, and that it was 
a matter of discrimination and a violation of my civil rights that was 
involved. They didn't want to listen and grew angrier. I was frightened 
but knew that I had to continue standing.

You see, this was not the first time I had been harassed by a bus driver 
in this manner. It had happened a number of times in the past, and on 
each occasion I sat down after a violent argument. Each time I was 
embarrassed and humiliated and felt that I had sold out my blind 
brothers and sisters, who were courageously battling similar 
discriminatory actions. The last time it happened I promised myself that 
it would never happen again.

The driver returned with the supervisor, who said he concurred with the 
driver's decision not to move the bus if I didn't sit. I told him I 
would stand. He said the seats in the front of the bus were reserved for 
handicapped persons. I told him I was not handicapped in my ability to 
stand. I said that if I was breaking some law, he should have me 
arrested and that if I was not, he should order the driver to move the 
bus. He obviously knew that I wasn't doing anything wrong because he did 
not call the police. He said there was an empty bus behind the one I was 
on and that I could get on that one and sit without feeling that I was 
being discriminated against. I said I would stay where I was. The driver 
and the supervisor conferred a bit longer and then decided to take all 
of the other passengers off the bus and put them on the one behind. They 
all filed past me, continuing to pour out abuse and make disparaging 
comments, until only an elderly woman and I remained on board. She 
explained that she was not able to stand on the other bus. The driver 
went to see if there was space and returned to report that there was 
room but that he didn't want to inconvenience the passengers by asking 
one of them to stand for her. How ironic! He created a major incident by 
harassing a blind person who was perfectly capable of standing but would 
not ask passengers to stand for someone with a legitimate reason for 
requiring a seat. Finally, another bus came, and the elderly woman left.

The supervisor returned, and he and the driver continued to badger me 
with excuses for their actions:

Since, as the supervisor put it, I didn't have the "privilege of 
seeing," I wouldn't know when people wanted to get past me and thus 
would create an obstruction. (They obviously had no trouble filing past 
me to get to the other bus.)

People are crazy and might knock me down. (I weigh close to 200 pounds, 
so that is not likely.)

I was standing too close to the driver and obstructing his view. (Other 
people were standing as close to him as I was, and I would have been 
happy to move; but the bus was jammed, and there was nowhere to go.)

I had been standing there for about thirty minutes and was beginning to 
fear that I would spend the rest of the evening on that bus, being 
badgered to sit---or something even worse. Finally, believe it or not, 
they decided to take the bus out of service for the general public and 
drive me to my stop. In retrospect I guess that this is no more 
unbelievable than cancelling a flight to get rid of a blind passenger. 
Of course, I continued to stand as we drove to my stop.

The driver went on harassing me about what an ignorant and inconsiderate 
person I was. I again repeated that it was a question of civil rights. I 
explained that this was just a small part of a large pattern of 
discrimination faced by blind people every day. He said that, as a black 
man, he had been facing discrimination for four hundred years---but of 
course this was different since sitting down would have in no way 
prevented me from reaching my destination. I explained that this was 
precisely the argument used against blacks who dared to object to being 
forced to sit at the back of the bus, but he refused to see my point. I 
told him that all of the employers, landlords, insurance carriers, 
airline officials, and other service providers who practice 
discrimination feel that their situations are also "different." He 
informed me that if he ever saw me waiting for a bus again, he would 
pass me up, and he hoped and anticipated that other drivers would do the 
same. He further stated that I might have "signed my own death warrant," 
because the passengers I had inconvenienced would remember me and take 
action against me on the street. I asked for his bus number, and he 
sarcastically replied that I should "go out and look at it." Finally, we 
reached the stop, and I bade him good day. He said I had already ruined it.

As I began walking up the hill toward my home, the shock began to take 
full effect, and I felt badly shaken by the brutal and dehumanizing 
treatment I had just received. At the same time I was grateful that my 
involvement in the National Federation of the Blind had given me the 
courage to endure such an experience---not only for myself but for all 
blind people. I was also grateful for the hard work of the members of 
the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania in securing passage 
of the amendments to our state's human relations act, which outlaws this 
type of behavior. I determined to file complaints with both the city and 
state human relations commissions, requesting the following relief: 1) 
The Port Authority be required to issue a clear policy statement 
indicating that its drivers may not order blind passengers to be seated 
on buses when no seats are available and when other passenters are 
permitted to stand, and that drivers may not in any way treat blind 
passengers differently from others; 2) The driver be required to publish 
in the newspaper a public apology for his abusive behavior; and 3) the 
Port Authority be required to pay me fifteen hundred dollars in personal 

I also decided to bring the matter to the attention of the media. The 
story received coverage on radio, television, and in the press with 
varying degrees of support. At first the Port Authority refused to 
comment, saying that I had threatened legal action. (I never made such a 
statement to them.) Later they began to claim that I had refused to 
stand anywhere but in the front of the bus and that I was obstructing 
the driver's view. (As I have already said, this is not the truth.) The 
company refused to have a representative appear on camera, but they 
issued a written statement to the media which claimed that their policy 
was that elderly and handicapped passengers could stand on buses, 
provided that they did not interfere with the operation of the bus. In 
the opinion of the driver, I had done just that. Later, on a call-in 
talk show, the president of their board of directors indicated that it 
was the company's policy that handicapped passengers be required to sit. 
This further demonstrates the need for a clear policy statement. About 
two weeks later their director of public relations appeared on a talk 
show, gave a total fabrication of the incident, and poked fun at me.

Thus far, the pain I have suffered has borne some fruit. I have been on 
several buses since then where the drivers have allowed me to stand. 
They may have learned something.

*Blindness: The Coming of the Third Generation *

An Address Delivered by Kenneth Jernigan
President, National Federation of the Blind
At the Banquet of the Annual Convention
Kansas City, Missouri, July 3, 1986


On 12/30/2014 12:43 PM, Tina Thomas via Nfbc-info wrote:
> Here is the article from komonews.com.
> SEATTLE -- A blind Seattle couple says they were barred from a bus by a
> driver who insisted the seats for people with disabilities were full.
> Cindy Bennett and Michael Mello were trying to catch the bus on Capitol Hill
> Sunday when they say the driver insisted they get off the bus and wait for
> the next one because no priority seats were available.
> "He was making an assumption that the only seats we could sit in were those
> designated as ADA seats," Bennett said. "We felt that it was a pretty clear
> indication that we were not welcome on that bus."
> "He started kind of getting louder and more irate with me and saying, 'the
> ADA section is full.' I said, 'that's fine. We can sit anywhere else on this
> bus. It's no problem,'" added Mello.
> King County Metro Transit, which operates buses in Seattle, apologized to
> the couple Monday and said it would investigate what happened.
> The Americans with Disabilities Act <http://www.ada.gov/>  says that people
> who are blind and visually impaired have the right to use public transit but
> that they do not have to ride in special seating, said Marci Carpenter,
> president of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington.
> "For us, it's the same as African-Americans being told they have to sit in
> the back of the bus. Mike and Cindy were told, 'you have to sit in the front
> of the bus or you cannot ride,'" Carpenter said. "It's a civil rights
> issue."
> "What happened is unacceptable and we apologize," said Jeff Switzer, a
> spokesman for Metro Transit, in a statement. "Blind passengers are not
> required to use the ADA priority seating area. We've identified the operator
> and his chief will be working with him on this issue and will take
> appropriate action."
> Switzer declined an on-camera interview.
> Bennett and Mello, who live in Seattle, were catching the number 11 bus
> Sunday near the intersection of Pike and Broadway on Capitol Hill. They had
> just left brunch with friends, they said.
> "We were so shocked when we got off the bus because we hadn't experienced
> that before and we didn't know what to do," said Mello. "I mean, the point
> of public transit is to provide us with more independence. That's what it
> does on a regular basis."
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