Tag Archives: omnitrans ADA

Student takes bus to brighter future

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Omnitrans rider Maria Aguilera has overcome many challenges in her life. As a little child in Mexico, an injury from an accidental fall resulted in hospital stays and the use of a leg brace until she was 12.

When her family moved to the United States in 1994, Maria faced another obstacle: learning to speak a new language.

“English has been the most difficult for me,” she explains. “When we came to the U.S. to live, I was a teenager. I had to go to a special school to learn the language. The teacher put labels on everything–the chairs, the table, the teacher’s desk, the tape recorder, the bathroom, the door–so that we would learn their names. Basically the way they would teach us is by singing and playing games. This way it is not so stressful. It took about a year and a half for me to be able to communicate. But in my final three years of high school, I was on the principal’s honor roll.”

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Today Maria attends Westwood College where she is in her second year studying business administration. Because of her hip injury she is unable to drive, so she relies on Omnitrans to get back and forth to her classes.

“Without the bus I would not have been able to go to college,” she says. “I would have had to quit school and continue to work factory jobs or at a fast food restaurant. I wanted to do better. One day I’d like to work in sales or marketing or maybe manage an office.”

Maria also likes the sense of community she gets from riding the bus. “The drivers are very friendly. Our family has been using the bus for so many years, that they all know us and what stops we normally use.”

“Most of the time my parents ride the bus together. One day they took separate buses going in opposite directions. That afternoon the driver joked with me asking what was going on with my parents taking seperate buses now.”

She laughs. “It actually gives me peace of mind to know that that someone is paying attention and looking out for us that way.”

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Bus keeps Ben rolling and independent

Ben Martin with Omnitrans Fleet Safety & Training Supervisor Don Frazier

One of the things we love best about working in transit is that we get to meet so many interesting people. Passenger Ben Martin is a good example. We had a great conversation when he dropped by the office to get straps installed on his wheelchair.

When I caught up with them, Omnitrans training supervisor Don Frazier had just finished tightening the straps and was testing them with a good yank. He and Ben were joking with each other like old buddies. They had discovered they grew up and went to school in the same neighborhood in LA.  It was an instant bond.

Ben explained he just bought himself this new wheelchair for his 61st birthday. He told us he has been an Omnitrans rider for about 4 years and loves it. It  gets him out of the house and gives him the opportunity to meet new people.

Omnitrans passenger Ben Martin

“My experience so far has been great because Omnitrans helps me to be independent. I buy all-day passes and don’t have to depend on members of my family to come take me or wait for some friend to pick me up. I look at the bus book, see how close it comes to where I want to go and just go. Sometimes I just get on the bus and ride to get away for a while. Three days a week I go for dialysis, and those days are hard.  I feel I just survive. Other days I feel like I could go out and be a Wal-Mart greeter, telling people hey, how ya doing? Come on in and spend your money” he laughed.

Ben told us he was a former Chino prison guard.

Heading for the bus stop

“It’s not something I wanted to do at first,” he said. “I used to play basketball with these prison guards. They would be on me all the time to come work there, but I always said no. At the time I was interested in working with the San Bernardino Marshalls or maybe becoming a lawyer. Then one day a job opportunity opened up at the prison and I saw how good the wages and benefits were. Once I got on, I thought this is not too bad. I worked there for 24 years.”

In 2003, however, he faced an unexpected medical challenge–diabetes.

“I was a macho, Dr. Pepper prison guard,” Ben explained. “You see, if you wore your uniform and went to 7 Eleven, you could get Big Gulps or cups of coffee for free. So I would go in there and get my Dr. Pepper. I was a Dr. Pepper man.  I would put 4 or 5 of them in my Igloo cooler to drink at work. If it was a real rough day, I’d get 3 or 4 more out of the vending machine. But I didn’t know it had all that sugar in it. I’d heard about diabetes and even took a little pill, but I wasn’t aware of the silent workings of diabetes. Sugar is the number one drug in America.”

“One day my big toe started turning dark. I thought it was bruised because I was having problems with my boots, but my ex old lady and my sister made me go to the doctor. They held me hostage at Kaiser Hospital for 47 days. They took my toes off and put a vein in my leg to help with circulation which was the problem. Diabetes works on your eyes, your organs, your kidneys, all that. The best thing I always tell people is drink plenty of water and walk. You see, I wasn’t doing a lot of walking. After 24 years, I was in the top 20 in terms of seniority.  I sat at my desk all the time, working the phone and entering the logbook. I sent rookies to do all the running around. Seniority killed me,” he laughed ruefully.

“I was off work for 15 months. I came back right after 9/11. The doctors wanted me to use a walker, but I was too bad of a prison guard to use a walker. I tell people today, man, use that walker when they tell you. It keeps the pressure and stuff off your feet. A lot of guys have that macho ego and they wind up not doing what the doctor says. And that’s what happened to me. The next thing I knew–boom–the doctors were asking me what do you want to do? Do you want to live? Because now we have to remove your other leg. That was a tough week. I told them to take it off. Life goes on. I live for my kids now.”

Boarding the Omnitrans bus

“I like the bus because sometimes I meet people I haven’t seen in years. You never know who is going to get on at the next stop. I’ve met people I knew back in high school or from when I went to Chaffey College. People recognize me. Sometimes I don’t like to be recognized. Sometime someone will shout out, hey man, don’t I know you from Chino? I just yell back yeah man, yeah.” he shook his head laughing.

Coach Operator Amy Prescott prepares to secure Ben’s wheelchair on the bus.

When Ben finally headed out the door to catch the bus, I gave him an Omnitrans cap and thanked him for talking to me. Delighted, he immediately put it on.

“So you think the bus driver will give me special treatment for wearing this hat?” he joked.

“Seriously though, I love Omnitrans. This bus company has helped me to keep rolling.” Ben grinned, “Only in America.”

Secured and ready to roll

 – Juno Kughler Carlson
juno.carlson@omnitrans.org

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Wheelchair daredevil loves public transit

When you look at 61-year-old Paula Jackson, you see a beautiful woman with a big smile. But once you get to talking to the Chino resident, you realize this is someone truly special.

For the past six years, Paula has been a regular Omnitrans rider. She admits she’s a bit of a daredevil.

“The drivers love to see me coming,” she laughs. “I have the fastest wheelchair in California. They never have to worry about me holding up the bus. I can back up that ramp and into my seat quick without having to get passengers to move over. I’m going to have to replace this chair soon, and I hate to give it up. I feel like I’m swapping my Jaguar for a Volkswagon!”

Paula wasn’t always in a wheelchair. She was 28-years-old and living in Indiana when her home was broken into in the middle of the night. During an encounter with one of the men, she was shot and left unconscious. The incident left her unable to walk again.

“My life started at that moment,” Paula says. “That’s when everything turned around. Before I was shot I felt like I was in darkness. Afterwards I was grateful for the second chance. I went back to school and got my high school diploma and later took some computer college classes.”

It also had a big impact on her family.

“At the time I was hurt, my son was 7 ½ years old, and it was a whole lot on him as a child. It made him grow up too fast. He was always very protective of me and felt like nobody could help me like he could. It was him and me against the world. Now he’s is 40 and he still helps out. We’re very close.”

Despite the challenges, Paula was not one to sit around feeling sorry for herself. She was determined to not let her injury keep her from things she really wanted to do. “People in wheelchairs are still people,” she points out. “We can do the same things everyone else does, just in a different way. Some of us even go mountain climbing or kayaking!”

“Can you believe that I didn’t get my driver’s license until after I was in the wheelchair? I’d had my driver’s permit plenty of times, but whenever it came time to take the test I froze and wouldn’t do it. During my rehab, my therapist gave me lessons on a car equipped with hand controls. After three weeks she sent me to the DMV for my driver’s test. I was so nervous and told her I wasn’t ready, but she said she had faith in me. I passed the test with flying colors.”

Today, Paula still enjoys breaking boundaries and trying new things. Although she loves public transit, she wishes it were available 24/7 so she could do even more. Her time at home is spent gardening, sewing or laughing at the antics of her 3–year-old Yorkshire terrier Korkee. She’s also an avid reader.  New Mobility Magazine is a favorite because of the great personal stories people share. She feels that if everyone read it, it would cut through a lot of common misconceptions about people with disabilities.

“People are people,” she says again. “It’s what we do with our lives that matters.”

– Juno Kughler Carlson
   juno.carlson@omnitrans.org 

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Paula with Omnitrans bus driver Roderick Morton and fellow passenger Yasuko Fujisawa