Some heroes wear an RTD uniform

Accessibility questions and requests for RTD and its riders are rarely fixed and unchanging. The best word is “situational.” 

Snowy conditions make it difficult to cross the street and catch the bus.

A toddler suddenly becomes a whole new kind of mobility problem when standing unsupervised in the middle of a busy street.

And a power wheelchair that suddenly stops working leads a woman to wonder how she’ll get home.

All of these situations, and many more, were routinely handled by RTD’s “ADA Heroes.” These employees – from operators to security to dispatchers – have been lauded by passengers for the way they reached out to people who needed extra help. At a time when recruiting and retaining enough operators and support personnel to keep RTD moving have been harder than ever, the agency believes it’s important to notice those going above and beyond. 

The awards also provide a well-rounded view of RTD’s accessibility work, complementing the current debate at the state Capitol over a bill that would put some Americans with Disabilities Act-style protections into state law that already exist in federal law. RTD has long gone further than federal rules require in services provided and citizen oversight of accessibility issues. 

The most recent ADA Heroes, honored quarterly by RTD, include the following:

  • Gregory Nelson, a bus operator, who helped a passenger on the opposite side of the street in the winter weather. The passenger initially waved the driver on because she knew she could not cross the street in time to catch the bus. “The driver stopped, got out of the bus, went across the street and helped her get unstuck. He could have easily gone on by, but chose to help instead. I have never seen a driver do that, and I have been riding the bus for over 20 years.”
  • Transdev bus operator Charnet Jarsso, who went above and beyond to help a disabled rider cross the street. “This driver helped a handicapped gentleman get off the bus and took him safely across Federal (Boulevard). You don't see a lot of the drivers doing that. Please let this driver know that he did an amazing job.”
  • Public safety dispatcher Lane Hines, who helped a member of RTD’s advisory committee for people with disabilities get home safely after the battery in her power wheelchair died – a fact that would have left her stranded downtown. “She called Transit Watch and spoke to a dispatcher who was able to get her an Access-a-Ride van to take her home. As many of you know, getting an Access-a-Ride van on short notice is nearly impossible. But for the dispatcher’s diligent efforts, Vivian would have been stranded without any help.”
  • And, of course, there’s the literal child-saving heroics of Access-a-Ride operator Rashida Way-Smith, whose take-charge approach to a human crisis was chronicled here earlier in February. Way-Smith saw a toddler standing and screaming in the middle of busy South Parker Road, jumped out, buckled him into her van alongside two passengers, and went to a safe place until police could respond. Lauded for doing the right thing quickly, the mother of four deflected credit to a dispatcher who helped keep her calm.

These are exactly the everyday actions RTD wanted to recognize when it launched the recognition awards in the latter part of 2018, said agency ADA investigator/specialist Anne Hillyer. The honors were the idea of RTD's ADA manager, Ed Neuberg. The ADA office housed within the agency's civil rights division.

In some circles, ADA laws and rules get a reputation as a thicket of potential problems and complaints that will rebound on employees who are trying to do the right thing, Hillyer said. 

In field visits, Hillyer said, “I didn’t want that type of feeling, that they’d be scared of that. We’ve worked very hard on that attitude. The ADA is really just a common-sense law: treat people the way you’d want to be treated.” Emphasizing positive stories, she said, will help show RTD employees that everyone values the ADA system and the spirit it can engender.

“I didn’t know how people would react to the awards,” Hillyer said. “But their coworkers and family and friends come down for the ceremonies we have.” 

The message throughout RTD’s system, and to the general public, should be clear, Hillyer said. 

“Our job is to move people, and a big part of the people we move are people with disabilities who don’t have other options,” she said. “And we’re constantly working on ways of making everything better.”  

Gregory Nelson, center
Charnet Jarsso, center
Lane Hines, center
Rashida Way-Smith, second from right