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Transit Responds to People's Needs

Jacques Pilon recalls a time when it was treacherous to get to and from classes at Mohawk College. "It used to be that you'd get off the bus and stand at the curb waiting for a break in traffic and then take your chances getting across Elgin Street," Pilon said. "There weren't any audio signals, lights or even a cross walk. I could be waiting there for 10 minutes before I knew it was safe.

"And even then, for someone like me, someone with no vision and poor hearing, it was a pretty dangerous thing to do. Elgin is a pretty busy street."

The introduction of hybrid cars, vehicles that are exceptionally quiet and environmentally friendly, has made crossing Elgin Street even more dangerous for Pilon and others with a hearing difficulty. "There's no way I'd ever do that crossing on my own now," he said.

Fortunately, he doesn't have to and neither does anyone else who might have difficulty crossing Elgin Street to get to classes.

Pilon, a member of the community advisory committee for disability issues, took his concerns about the Elgin Street crossing to the committee a few years ago. And after a little bit of work and after bringing the problem to the attention of city and college officials, significant changes were made.

There is now a bus stop on the main driveway into the campus and signs that mark the pedestrian crosswalk. Vehicles routinely stop for anyone trying to cross the driveway. Now buses can come right into the campus, making it easier for a lot of people, not just those with vision or hearing problems.

"It's better for everyone," Pilon said. "It's easier for moms who might be coming here with their young kids and it's easier for seniors.

"No one has to try to make that suicide run across Elgin Street anymore."

The change at Mohawk College is one of many the committee and Pilon have helped orchestrate over the years, as the city becomes more universally accessible. Another important change that Pilon helped bring about also focuses, to some extent, on public transit.

It occurred a few years ago when Pilon was living in west Brant. He relied on Brantford transit to get around town and, like many other people who are blind or visually impaired, Pilon had the bus route memorized. He knew when the bus would reach his stop and it was time for him to get off.

"One day, they changed the route and didn't tell me," Pilon recalled. "I maybe wasn't paying as close attention as I usually did and I got off at the wrong stop," he said. "For someone like me, that was a disaster because then I didn't know where I was."

He was only one street away but it was impossible for him to orient himself to his new surroundings without some help. Fortunately, a passerby gave him the assistance he needed and he arrived home safely that day.

Again, Pilon took the incident and concern to the committee and changes were made to make transit more user-friendly. Now buses are equipped with an automated voice that announces each stop.

"The drivers are great and always have been about announcing stops and helping me and others," Pilon said. "But I like the automated system because it helps the driver concentrate on driving and the system makes sure the stops are announced."

A member of the community advisory committee for 15 years, Pilon was honoured for his contributions to Brantford by his fellow committee members on the International Day for Persons with Disabilities last week. He has helped the community become more accessible for everyone, Dorothy DeVuono, the committee's vice-chairperson, said.

"He's a local expert, one of many that we have had on our committee," DeVuono said. "They bring their life experiences to us and help us figure out ways to improve accessibility for as many people as possible.

"When we talk about accessibility, we talk about making it universal. That is accessibility for all."

Asked what grade he would give the city with respect to accessibility, Pilon gave the city a B.

"This city has been looking at accessibility for a number of years now, going right back to when Chris Friel became mayor," Pilon said. "The city has a really good attitude towards accessibility and about getting things done.

"They listen to people with life experiences and work to make things better."

Reprinted from the Brantford Expositor, Ontario, December 8, 2009.