A Bus Ride to Independence

by Linda Leigh
Categories: Annual Review
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It’s one of the first of its kind in Ontario. The Salvation Army’s Lawson Ministries in Hamilton is teaching people with developmental disabilities how to use the public transit system—something many of us take for granted.

Twenty-one year old Richard battles with Autism, and has great difficulty in communicating and forming relationships. Since graduating from the Community Access to Transportation program, or “The CAT,” Richard is doing things he’s never done before. “I can go to the mall to get my mom a birthday present, or meet a friend at a movie,” says Richard. “Riding the bus by myself makes me feel good.”

Growing up Richard was mocked, mistreated, humiliated and intentionally triggered into having meltdowns by bullies who knew what buttons to push. “They made fun of the way I walked, called me bad names, looked at me like I was a freak, and left me out on purpose,” says Richard.

Richard didn’t have the social skills to avoid or to get himself out of situations so he distanced himself from society. His refuge was his bedroom. His friends were his family.

“Being able to get safely from point A to point B has restored Richard’s confidence and self-esteem,” says step-mother, Elizabeth. “He is proud of his accomplishments and wants to do things and go places. This is a huge step forward for us as a family.”

Community Access to Transportation program (CAT)
The goal of “The CAT” is to train 200 people with developmental disabilities to travel safely and independently on the public transit system of Hamilton. And while participants learn to travel through the city, there is an increased freedom for primary care providers who are currently transporting them.

During four weeks of group training, and up to an additional 40 hours of one-on-one practical training, students learn personal safety, bus routes, what to do if they accidentally board the wrong bus, and how to respond to on-the-street crisis situations. “We repeat trips as often as we need to so students are comfortable with a routine,” says trainer, Alison Grevatt. “Sometimes it takes two to three buses to get them to their destination. “

At the end of the class, graduates receive a year’s worth of free bus passes and a certificate of completion.

The Salvation Army believes that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and “The CAT” program is a natural fit to this end. “Providing solutions to barriers that allow people to be as independent as they can be restores dignity,” says Michelle Martin, program coordinator. “The program is having a huge impact on a group of individuals who have fallen through the cracks.”

Richard says he loves to bowl and even knows the route to the bowling alley. “I’m one step closer to an independent future,” he says with a smile.