School bus attendants and their supporters chant and drum while walking a picket line near a bus depot in New York, Thursday, January 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
In happier times, I wrote in The New York Times how our son’s yellow school bus was one of the great things about New York. The yellow school bus strike, then, is a bomb that’s landed in our already stretched-thin lives as parents of a child with disabilities. We, along with the parents of the other 54,000 special-needs children in the city, now have to figure out how to get our son to and from school when just taking him for a walk can be a challenge. Plus, my husband and I both work. The Mayor’s “Gaelic” benediction for us might be “Rotsa Ruck.”
Bloomberg is a businessman, and business is about profit and cost-cutting, but I find the sheer heartlessness of this move almost awe-inspiring. As if having a special needs child isn’t challenging enough, now the children who are most sensitive to disruptions will have their schedules upended. Imagine having to find a way to get your child in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank into a cab, or taking your autistic child from the Bronx to his school in Brooklyn, or riding the subway with your Down syndrome child for an hour, making other arrangements for siblings and still somehow getting to work on time. The city claims it will reimburse parents for taxis or driving, but what about the parents who don’t have enough cash to wait for reimbursement? Or the carless mother of the child whose program is in New Rochelle? It takes an hour—without traffic—to get to our son’s school, which ends at noon on Fridays. It’s hard not to feel that not only does Bloomberg not understand our situations, he really does not care. Just as many of our children cannot speak, so too as a constituency—overburdened, overtired, fiscally strained—we are an “easy” population on which to foist the pain of budget cuts.
And this is just the short-term disruption. The long-term plan, replacing the experienced bus drivers and matrons with lesser-paid recruits, should Bloomberg succeed, is an invitation to disaster.
Right now, our bus company’s name is Reliant, and indeed, judging from our excellent driver and matron, they live up to their name. They show up precisely on time every day (or notify us the rare times they are not) in their crisp uniforms. Our son indeed relies on them to be consistent, calm, patient and firm.
On bad days, our son can bite, head-butt, scream or pinch—fairly typical behaviors for autism, but they can be shocking when one first encounters them. Even when our son was a toddler, he could put up such a fight that in one such scrum, I remember an aide’s artificial fingernail flying off. Because of our son’s gastrointestinal problems, he can have toileting issues. It can be difficult not to take such assaults personally or want to retaliate—which is why experience and maturity needs to be taken into account. A Connecticut mother that I know learned that a 24-year-old bus aide was yanking her nonverbal autistic daughter’s fingers until they were sprained and bruised ostensibly because she was angry at the girl for wetting her pants.