A dream came true this week for Michael Dell.
For years, he’s been advocating for Kahnawake to be more inclusive and accessible for community members living with disabilities, including calling for the creation of a paratransit service in the Kanien’kehá:ka community south of Montreal.
On Monday, Dell had the opportunity to be among the first to use the newly launched Turtle Island Paratransit Service.
“It’s been long overdue,” said Dell, who has cerebral palsy and has been using a wheelchair since he was eight years old.
“It will give the special needs population in Kahnawake a greater sense of autonomy and pride because they’ll be able to book the bus and go where they need to go.”
Dell is a member of Connecting Horizons, a support group for individuals with disabilities, their families, and caregivers.
Iris Phillips is the group’s advocacy co-ordinator. She said lack of funding has been a barrier that has put many projects on the back burner but wanted this new bus to be a priority when it received funding from several local organizations earlier this year.
“Living through a pandemic has had its challenges for everyone, and is especially difficult for our special needs community members,” she said.
“With stay-at-home recommendations, it made it harder for them to get out and perform everyday tasks that able-bodied persons often take for granted.”
Phillips named the bus Eileen after her grandmother, a founding member of the community’s Golden Age Club.
“Mobility was always her biggest issue,” said Phillips.
“If they wanted to go on shopping trips, they always had to get on a regular school bus. The people who had canes, crutches, and wheelchairs weren’t able to go on those trips anymore.”
The bus is a 2021 Ford Girardin and can accommodate up to 16 passengers and two wheelchairs.
“She is hot and ready to hit the town,” said Phillips.
Mackenzie Whyte, general manager of recreation at the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, said the new service is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to accessibility initiatives in the community. They’re about to begin a public building accessibility evaluation to see what can be improved.
“We looked at what we could do now, and what’s a project that has been lingering and affecting our community for so long,” said Whyte.
“A lot of people feel like they’re bothering their family when they need a ride somewhere. This gives a great amount of freedom and independence. The longer we can keep people independent, the better their life is and the better the community is.”