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Rocky Mountain News 7/6/78
[This story continues in ADAPT 91 but the entire text is included here for easier reading.]

NEWS Photo by Dick Davis: A city bus is parked at an angle to the street across 2 or 3 lanes. In front, a small woman in a power chair and dark sunglasses, sits holding a very large sign that reads "Taxation without Transportation" and has a wheelchair symbol of access. Two other people in wheelchairs are backed up to the side of the bus and a small group of other people in wheelchairs are in the street by the blockers.
Caption reads: A group of handicapped persons "seized" two RTD buses Wednesday, protesting what they called the firm's insensitivity to handicapped.

Buses seized, police decline to make arrests
News Staff

Protesting what they said was the Regional Transportation District's insensitivity to Denver's handicapped, about 25 disabled persons "seized" two buses during Wednesday morning's downtown rush hour, snarling traffic and daring police to make arrests.

While supporters helped them board two eastbound buses on Colfax Avenue at Broadway, several persons in wheelchairs surrounded the crowded vehicles.

Early morning commuters had to walk two blocks to catch other buses while RTD drivers radioed their headquarters for assistance.

Shortly after the 8:30 takeover, police arrived, admitting they weren't sure what to do. As commanders came to assist, police decided not to arrest any handicapped protesters because, as one sergeant said, “We don't want to be the fall guys on this.“

Police said they didn't want to risk injuring any of the severely disabled persons by loading them into police vans, nor did they wish to be pictured in television newscasts or newspapers arresting persons in wheelchairs.

TWO PERSONS WERE arrested for refusing to obey police orders, but they were local counselors - not in wheelchairs - who work with many of Denver's approximately 8,000 handicapped.

John Simpson, RTD executive director, arrived at the scene about 10 a.m. and talked with the demonstrators, asking them to leave the street and explain their grievances away from traffic.

The protesters refused to move, saying Simpson and RTD have been meeting with the handicapped for years and done little to solve their transportation problems.

"Handicapped people have a right to ride the bus just like everyone else," said Lin Chism, a disabled University of Colorado at Denver student studying rehabilitation counseling.

“Today is the first of many times we will have to do this to get RTD to come to some agreement with us.“

Calling themselves the Colorado Coalition of Disabled Citizens, the protesters, organized and led by Denver's privately owned Atlantis Community for the handicapped, said the demonstration was a response to last week's federal court ruling that RTD was not violating the constitutional rights of the city's handicapped by not providing them access to RTD buses.

ATLANTIS AND OTHER groups representing the handicapped and elderly last year sued RTD to require installation on all new buses of devices providing access to persons in wheelchairs.

Wade Blank, director of Atlantis, which helps handicapped persons adjust to non-institutional life, said demonstrators hoped to get the attention of U.S. District Court Judge Richard P. Matsch, who made last week's ruling, and "others in the judicial system so they know what we‘re up against.

“Like Martin Luther King. we have tried to go through the system," Blank said. "Now, like Dr. King, we must practice civil disobedience until the judges change their minds or Congress makes new laws."

A clerk for Judge Matsch said, “The judge does not respond to reporters‘ questions and makes no comment on a ruling he has made." Blank said Atlantis lawyers will appeal Matsch's decision. He said the group also plans additional disruptive protests.

“These people have no place else to go," he said, adding that they would not even be able to attend meetings on the subject proposed by Simpson because they could not find transportation.

Simpson, talking with protesters, police and reporters throughout the morning, said RTD is trying to help disabled persons get around town and is one of the most progressive agencies in the nation in that area.

RTD HAS I2 BUSES equipped with hydraulic lifts and locking safety clamps for persons in wheelchairs. Simpson said. Transporting several hundred persons to and from work and school daily, the "special service", buses appear to be the best way to move handicapped persons, he said.

Equipping other buses with elevator lifts wouldn't be feasible, according to Simpson, because many handicapped persons can't get to bus stops located throughout town.

Simpson pleaded with the demonstrators to move and let the two stalled buses continue down Colfax Avenue, even ordering one of the special buses into the area to handle the crowd. He also took reporters through the bus, demonstrating its features.

But the protesters refused to move, saying their problem wasn't one of immediate transportation but rather a long-term dilemma exacerbated by the fact that only nine of the 12 special buses are in use. The other three, they said, are in storage at RTD garages.

Simpson said RTD will have another 28 buses designed to carry handicapped persons in operation by September but their use has been delayed by mechanical problems.

POLICE COMMANDERS repeatedly tried to mediate an immediate solution to the the traffic jam created by the protesters, but demonstrators said they would not leave unless Simpson gave them a written promise that all RTD buses would be made accessible to the handicapped.

Simpson, declining this offer, said he would meet "with anyone, any time" on the issue.

"We have been sensitive," Simpson said. "But some of these problems Congress will have to address."

Demonstrators also expressed concern that the waiting list to get on the special buses is 1,000 persons long and the only alternative for persons without friends or relatives to drive them around is a private cab service that charges about $16 per round trip.

Many city and state officials were on the scene, watching and talking to police and demonstrators.

Mary Krane, a supervisor in the city's social services department, said she quit RTD advisory committee on the handicapped and elderly last year in frustration.

"I resigned because it was so hard to get anything done, " she said. "We messed around with a few things but nothing really happened. No one has been willing to make the capital investment necessary to make buses accessible to the handicapped."

JEROME SPRIGS, A member of the Governor's Council on the Handicapped, said disabled persons "know they're getting the run-around from the RTD because many of these special buses are being used in rural areas."

Lisa Wheeler, 20, an Atlantis counselor, and Bill Roem, who runs a Lakewood home for the physically handicapped, were arrested about 11 am after they ignored a police order to leave the street.

"Police are doing their jobs, " Roem said from inside a squad car. "But there has to be some awareness of the problem."

Ms. Wheeler and Roem were book at police headquarters and released on $100 bond. Police blocked traffic on Colfax Avenue from Delaware on the west to Lincoln on the east. Traffic during the evening rush hour didn't seem to move any slower than usual, as protesters said they probably would continue their vigil throughout the night.