Disabled woman angry over mistreatment by KMB driver
Driver 'under observation' after 26-year-old suffering from limited mobility is not allowed to leave bus using disabled-access platform
A Kowloon Motor Bus driver is being given customer-service training and will be put under observation after a disabled woman complained to the Equal Opportunities Commission about her mistreatment.
Julie Aswani, 26, who has limited mobility of her arms, hands and legs, says the driver refused to lower the disabled-access platform to the bus to help her alight and laughed in her face when she said she could not use the rear exit.
"The bus driver's conduct is in blatant breach of the disability discrimination ordinance," Aswani, who was born with the rare condition athrogyroposis multiplex, said.
KMB said the August 18 incident was a "misunderstanding", but said it had arranged for the driver to attend training on how to serve passengers in need.
"The bus [driver] concerned will also be subject to close monitoring by plain-clothes staff, who will observe his performance on a random basis over the coming months."
Aswani, whose condition causes contraction of the joints and shortening of the muscles, said she had made two complaints to the company in 2011 after similar behaviour from other bus drivers.
She said she believed the company had failed to acknowledge the gravity of the situation.
Aswani, who is of Indian descent, does not use a wheelchair although she struggles to get on and off vehicles without wheelchair access.
She said the driver of the number 48 bus refused to let her leave the bus through the front doors for "safety reasons".
"He started arguing and said, 'If you don't get off then all the passengers need to wait for you,'" Aswani said. "He threatened to call the bus company and this led me to call the police. At the same time, I called my brother and my friend for help who happened to be nearby."
She said that her brother tried to reason with the driver. But she said that when he explained the nature of her condition and how the platform is lower at the front of the vehicle, the driver laughed. It was only after police arrived, about 40 minutes later, that Aswani left the bus.
The Equal Opportunities Commission is campaigning to make certain access requirements - like low-floor buses - a standard provision on public transport.
Senior officer Mariana Law said the commission had written to the Transport and Housing Bureau in 2011 on this issue and it was projected that all buses would have wheelchair access by 2016. But KMB's projected date is a year later.
Human Rights Monitor director Law Yuk-kai said KMB needed to do more to mitigate against discrimination of the disabled.
"The company needs to provide responsible education to its employees; it has a duty to do so. They can't just say they are sorry," he said. "It is clear that this is not an isolated case. The bus company needs a better monitoring system."
He said that the Equal Opportunities Commission "cared more about the infrastructure than educating the public" and recommended the Transport Bureau also take responsibility for improving attitudes towards the disabled on public transport.
Aswani, who speaks conversational Cantonese, said that in 2011 she complained to KMB when another driver refused to assist her and told her: "People like you should be taking taxis."
She said he added: "You should go back to your country."
"I'm from Hong Kong. I have an ID and I pay taxes - I have every right to take public transport," Aswani said. "I feel so dependent on others, and I don't want to feel this way. I want to be able to travel on my own."