HEAT Bus Incident with Guide Dog Leads Way for Change

By Brent Eisenbarth and Emily Haaksma, Staff Writers

UNCG graduate student John Dyson and Civil Rights leader Rosa Parks have more in common than you may initially think. Both had unpleasant encounters with bus drivers that see the world through discriminating eyes.

On Sunday, Oct. 29 Dyson stepped onto a campus-run Higher Education Area Transit bus with his faithful Seeing Eye dog Sarge.

He was immediately asked to leave.

“(The driver) proceeded to keep yelling at me to get off the bus,” said Dyson to the Winston-Salem Journal. “Why am I being berated because I have a dog?”

Although the Americans with Disabilities Act allows Sarge to go wherever Dyson does, the bus driver called security when Dyson refused to leave the bus.

“It should be widely known that there are accommodations for the disabled,” said Alyssa Wright, a first-year at UNCG who rides the HEAT bus. “I can’t believe that something ridiculous like that would happen on this campus.”

Security arrived and ordered Dyson and Sarge to board a different bus.

“Unfortunately, it was a new operator who had been on the job less than 90 days,” said Information Specialist Kevin Elwood to the Winston-Salem Journal. “And he was not familiar with the policy regarding that.”

The question then arises as to why the driver did not understand this policy during training.

There were no grounds for the driver to kick a blind man off the bus. Sarge was even wearing a harness that denoted his role as guide dog.

Dyson's service dog, Sarge. Via Fox 8 WGHP.
Dyson’s service dog, Sarge. Via Fox 8 WGHP.

“I think that incident highlights how important it is that everyone in an organization is well-trained about accessibility and the ADA … for employees of any organization,” said Melissa Frink, director of the Learning Commons and chair of the accessibility subcommittee.

People who are visually impaired typically rely on public transportation.

“If you don’t have timely and reliable transportation, you will not be able to have a job … (and) will not be able to live essentially,” said Alex Williamson, ‘12 a blind graduate.

“There are little things that happen, that are inconsiderate, or are a downright a violation of ADA, because people are not familiar with the breadth of what the ability is,” said Pam Brown, Guilford County Schools instructor of the visually impaired. “They may not be doing it to harm someone, they may just be unaware.”

Discrimination against the visually impaired is not just present in Greensboro.

On Nov. 13, U.S. Airways flight attendants removed Albert Rizzi, a legally blind passenger, due to complications with his guide dog.

Several other passengers objected to the decision and said the flight attendant was mistreating the man. The flight was cancelled.

Accessibility can be better across the board. “Education is key,” said Georgie Bogdan, associate disability services coordinator.

We can all work together to provide better accessibility.

Accessibility is more than an ideal; it is the conscious decision to create a more movable and accepting environment.

“Stand up for disabilities, and don’t just sit there like a bump on a log,” said Williamson.

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