Stories from the brainreels guests Keith Scholz and Jared Franz from OPAL Environmental Justice
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About a year ago, I interviewed two people from OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon: Keith Scholz and Jared Franz. Keith is the Chair of their Bus Riders Unite program, and Jared was a Transportation Policy Associate at the time.
In a January article from Oakland, California about building a new rapid transit line using universal design for accessibility, travel trainer Chonita Chew said “[Transit] cuts back on isolation….It gives [seniors] independence, especially when they have to give up their car.” If you have access to your own car or transportation anytime you want it, have you thought about isolation for people without cars? What about isolation for people who had a car but can’t drive anymore due to aging or disability? Or people who are pushed out of the urban core because most of the affordable, accessible housing is very far from the City Center?
And it’s not just logistics too. There’s a lot of discrimination on transit too, from racial profiling to arrests and deportation of riders with no policy in place to do so to ableism. I just love this post from The Squeaky Wheelchair blog called “Hey You, My Name Is Not Wheelchair.” I feel like they really nail it, and here are a few choice lines from the post. “Grumble grumble grumble. Transportation. It remains one of the biggest obstacles for people with disabilities, especially if you can’t get out of the chair to travel. If you can get into the vehicle at all on public transit, it’s usually in a tiny cramped space that smells like an armpit. Backpacks and pocketbooks swing in my face, and there I am, at ‘butt level’, hoping that nobody has gas….After settling into my tiny little space, praying for safety in the sea of butts and backpacks, I was off to meet the day.
Then, the driver said loudly: ‘Is the wheelchair ready?’ Hm. Last time I checked, the wheelchair is not able to answer any questions….I don’t appreciate my entire identity being swallowed up by it, as if an empty wheelchair is riding the bus….I am still a person, and even though I have a wheelchair, the fact that there is a person in it should not be forgotten. The reality that everyday speech allows for our humanity to evaporate into the metal and plastic and overpriced neoprene on which we sit says something about the way society treats us. Words lead to actions, and based on this woman’s words, I am just a wheelchair.”
This isn’t a post about getting PC with your language. It’s about the ways in which we subtly and not so subtly devalue targeted people. I’ve seen it a million times: passengers sighing angrily and complaining about how long it takes for wheelchair users to get on and off the bus, people refusing to give up seating at the front for someone with an Honored Citizen fare who asks for a seat, riders being loudly and melodramatically insulted by the presence of another rider who doesn’t appear to have on clean clothes. Transit should be safe and comfortable for all riders. And if you see some riders as fully human, you just should see all riders as fully human.
[Image descriptions: Black and white of Keith standing at a bus stop as the #4 pulls up. Text says “Gets me where I need to go.” Black and white of Perla Alvarez at a TriMet #4 bus stop. Text on the picture “I have a love/hate relationship with TriMet.”]
Please enjoy the podcast episode below with Keith and Jared. We had a great time talking about a lot of issues around transit justice, gentrification, and the wonderful ways to get involved with OPAL. It was recorded a year ago, but what they say is all still relevant. With 2015 being OPAL’s 10 year anniversary, I’m so glad to get this episode out today!