Anyone who was close to Gay, knows that a “school bus” was one of the most important things in the world to her and she could say and shout those words very clearly…SCHOOL BUS!
Why was the school bus so important to her? It was all about access, mobility, and belonging.
Gay and her parents were among the many families in the eighties that protested at state capitals and crawled up the steps to the national capital building in D.C. to advocate for persons challenged by buildings and infrastructure not designed to support their mobility needs. As part of that advocacy work, a Sunday, Sept 10th, 1995 article in the Monroe Evening News featured Gay riding the Lake Erie Transit bus and discussing ways in which businesses and organizations could become more accessible following the 1991 ADA act which established ADA Standards for Accessible Design (updated in 2010).
Gay was also one of the first mobile by wheelchair special education students to gain access to the traditional yellow school bus that she watched other children ride for years. It meant independence for her, something Gay’s parents (Claire and Beth) worked hard to give her. Gay could get to her favorite place, school, without her parents and spend more time socializing with her peers. And the “bus” continued to be a symbol of her independence throughout her life, whether it was the Monroe County School District bus, the Lake Erie Transit program, the Schoolcraft County Transit program, the Livingston County Transit program, or the van that provided her transportation to a community program in Chelsea, they were all the “school bus” to Gay. Her family and caregivers often watched one of Gay’s favorite movies “Riding the Bus with My Sister” (by Rachel Simon), even though there is no way that Gay would have wanted her little sister on the bus with her every day for a year like Beth did for her sister in the movie. However, Gay quickly connected her love of the bus with Beth’s daily need to ride the local city bus and all the experiences that unfolded as Beth’ sister, Rachel, starts riding the bus with her and learning how to support her sister’s needs (a true story written by Rachel).
And oh, our own stories of Gay riding “her” busses. From her family’s perspective, the busses were notoriously late, sometimes Gay would be gone for hours and Gay’s Dad would be desperately trying to hunt down where Gay was and if she was safe, and the equipment needed to hoist Gay’s wheelchair in the air would often fail due to mechanical or human error. When Amy and Steve moved Gay to Washtenaw county and into their home, we checked out a non-profit program associated with the CATA busses called “The Wave”. Gay noticed these busses whenever we were traveling through town. Amy learned the route and tapped Steve to help her get Gay a ride on “the Wave Bus” one chilly morning. We waited for the bus at Busch’s grocery store in Dexter and Gay was so excited when it pulled up. You could read her mind; she could have her independence even while living with her sister! And then, sure enough, the lift didn’t work. But there was no way Gay wasn’t getting on that bus. Amy looked at Steve and said, “help me get her on there, this bus is not leaving without us” and together we sat her in a bus seat and Amy rode with her to Meijer where Steve arrived with Gay’s van to pick us up. Steve bumped his head on the bus mirror as he carried Gay on to the bus and for 2 years every time she looked at him, she would smile, pat her head, and say “school bus”. She never forgot what he did for her that day.
In fact, Gay inadvertently created community as we all supported her efforts to be independent. Our family fondly remembers each and every bus/van/vehicle driver and that it required a team to make sure that Gay was safely on the bus and to make sure someone was always home to get her off the bus. Amy will never forget how our one caregiver, Torey, arrived promptly at our house at 6:30am and worked until 9:30am before her regular job every day for months to get Gay up and on the bus. My parents, Gay’s caregivers, Steve and I were constantly triaging who would be available. And Gay was deeply appreciative of those who helped us, even Chris, our friend’s husband, who sat with Gay for ten minutes so Amy could get to work on time for a meeting. Amy will never forget the look on his face when she walked out the door and left Gay with him. And Gay never called him Chris after that day, just “school bus”, a true sign of her affection and appreciation.