Back when I almost languished in the warehouse, paratransit companies expected their drivers to follow stringent rules when serving the infirm and disabled—at least that’s what they wanted everybody to believe. (This may have changed, but I doubt it.) The reality of high employee turnover for an underpaid and largely unskilled position (though many unsophisticated drivers insisted otherwise) forced urban paratransit companies to shitcan reasonable standards when hiring workers.*
Cripplevan companies trained their drivers to assist elderly customers as they shuffled up or down the van’s ramp, and to always back wheelchairs in or out of the vehicle—never to push except on level ground. A driver who followed proper procedure used heavy nylon straps to secure the wheelchair to the van’s floor, then fastened a seat belt around the passenger. (I remember once when I reached for the safety strap; the driver ordered me not to move, to let him do it because “I be a trained p’ofessional.”) Dimwitted tubs of offal blindly abided by the rules and policies of their employer without considering the intent behind the mandates. They reasoned that allowing some vaguely medical-field-related higher power to manipulate them meant they “worked” in the healthcare industry. Only a small handful of workers proved themselves competent; the majority performed only adequately enough that they managed to hold their jobs.
Candidates for driving jobs are routinely required to provide references and proof of a decent driving record. They’re also forced to undergo a drug test and fess up if they’re a convicted felon. Most drivers considered me a retard and spoke freely in my presence. Often a passenger who sought employment that required no experience asked the driver about his job. First the driver would piss and moan about the hardship and inconvenience of driving a paratransit van. Then he would reveal that his company is so desperate to hire drivers they don’t check references, neither do they check driving or police records. And they often “lose” piss test results.
While staying at the warehouse, I phoned a paratransit company licensed by the city and scheduled a ride to my bank. As the female driver strapped my wheelchair to the floor of the van I noticed a small portable black and white television stationed on the driver’s side of the dashboard. I assumed that during her breaks she parked in a lot somewhere and stared at mindless shows. She glanced at the schedule attached to a clipboard while she absently grabbed my fare. No sooner had she merged into traffic than she switched on the TV; it was tuned to a soap opera.
* As I’ve clearly stated, I write exclusively and truthfully of my own experience. Your results may vary.