I put off blogging about this particular issue because, quite frankly, it troubles me. I had hoped that discussing the matter with others in the disability community and taking some time to mull it over myself might help to settle my thoughts, but to no avail.
It started when I stumbled across this story last week - I was completely unaware that Metro Transit had a history of offering blind and visually impaired passengers free passes on the Halifax buses.
Apparently they were about to pull the plug on the practice after receiving "informal complaints from disabled folks who said it wasn’t fair that one group was getting complimentary passes, but not others". Combine the complaints with the fact that some $420,000 in possible revenue was at stake and some feared the die was cast. End of the day, however, Halifax Council, for whatever reason, caved and the free bus passes for the visually impaired continues.
Here's my problem. I really am not sure on which side of this issue I sit, either legally or personally.
Legally, sec. 15(1) of the Charter prohibits discrimination on the basis of "physical or mental disability". So if free bus passes are given out to the blind but not, for example, to the mentally challenged, aren't those with intellectual disabilities being discriminated against?
And legally, is this really any different than allowing a blind person's support person to travel for free without having a similar policy for individuals with other disabilities?
Actually, despite how it may appear at first blush, I would answer probably not.
If a disabled person is unable to access a mode of public transportation (be it bus, aircraft or taxi) without the assistance of a support person, then to make that person pay two fares to access a system that the rest of the public can access by paying only one fare may well be discriminatory.
And if a public transit provider was to have in place a policy whereby they allowed individuals with one type of disability (ie. blindness) to have a support person travel for free but did not allow those with different disabilities (who also validly needed the services of a support person to access the mode of transit) to do so, I would say they were only helping to pound the nails into their own coffin.
But allowing one group of the disabled to travel for free (for whatever noble reasons),while it might be bad public relations in that it could conceivably really irritate and annoy others who are forced to pay full fare, doesn't strike me as being in the same ball pack, from a legal point of view. In my mind, it much more fits the definition of "discrimination", as has been fleshed out by the Supreme Court of Canada, to not offer free passes for anyone who needs a support person than it does to offer free passes only to the blind.
From a personal point of view, I am not much happier.
Cross-posted at A Primer on Special Needs and the Law