Drivers try different wheels |

Drivers try different wheels

Greg Risling

Barbara “Bobby” Girard was strapped in a wheelchair and for once in her life she wasn’t in control.

She felt confined and it wasn’t pleasant.

Girard and seven other Area Transit Management bus drivers received a crash course in disability training on Tuesday. Transit agencies require employees to go through a sensitivity course in compliance with the American Disabilities Act.

Tuesday’s three-hour class put the drivers in a different kind of chair. They were put on a wheelchair lift and taken for a short trip to familiarize themselves with the handicapped experience.

“They get a feel of how much confidence they put in our drivers,” said Andy Zion, ATM’s Human Resource Director. “If there is a sharp turn or a sudden lane change, they know how important their job is.”

The agency, which services the South Shore, goes above and beyond the normal amount of training, said ATM General Manager Ken Daley. Drivers with Class B licenses have eight hours of retraining a year. They learn the little details: positioning, seat belts and patience.

Zion said not many handicapped people use the van or buses but that won’t stop the agency from offering the service. ATM was recognized in 1995 and ’96 by the Tahoe Area Coordinating Council for the Disabled with an annual award.

Two men who use ATM’s “handi-van” to commute every Monday to the college have missed the smile and support of Girard, who has been out sick the last week. Her replacement told her that the riders have asked about her health, wondering if she will be returning soon.

The level of patience, the conversations and that extra push are all worth the effort to Girard. Since no two disabilities are the same, she strongly believes that intensive training is the best medicine for the drivers.

“I think there are things that come along with a passenger that we may have never encountered,” she said. “We had a class just a month ago but there is always room for more classes. It makes me feel good that I can help out.”

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