It’s one of the first of its kind in Ontario. People with developmental and cognitive disabilities are celebrating new-found independence by learning how to use public transportation, something many of us take for granted.
The Salvation Army is the organizing force behind Community Access to Transportation, or ‘The CAT’. “This course provides freedom for a group of people who, right now, have very few options for transportation,” says Deanna Finch-Smith, Executive Director of Hamilton’s Salvation Army Lawson Ministries.
Paul, a graduate of the program who has Down Syndrome, recently took the bus to where he bowls in a weekly league. The 22-year-old asked for a transfer and looked for familiar landmarks that told him where his stop was. He transferred to a second bus and checked with the driver to make sure it was heading his way.
“Before, I had to have someone drive me,” says Paul. “Now I’m independent.”
The two-year pilot program will educate more than 200 people. Through an eight-week class, one-on-one lessons, and 40-hours of on-the-bus training, students will learn personal safety, which bus routes to take, what to do if they accidentally get on the wrong bus, where to buy tickets, and how to respond to on-the-street crisis situations. At the end of the class, graduates receive a year’s worth of free bus passes and a certificate of completion.
By providing solutions to the barriers that prevent people from being as independent as they can be, dignity is restored to participants. Navigating around the community by bus builds a sense of confidence and self-worth.
The Salvation Army continues to underscore the point that everyone deserves basic human dignity. As an international Christian church that welcomes everyone, The Salvation Army’s faith motivates its mission to serve others and treat societies most vulnerable and overlooked people with dignity and respect.
“We are excited about this opportunity,” continues Deanna. “The program is having a huge impact and is a rewarding experience for this group of individuals who have fallen through the cracks.”
Paul says he’ll continue taking the bus and is planning to learn how to ride to the movie theatre.