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On the bus

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Far from being an embarrassment, riding the short bus is the highlight of Deane’s day.

A car dealership in Idaho recently advertised its new trucks by asking, “Are you driving a wimpy truck? Do your kids take the short bus so they won’t be seen in it?”

The dealership was then hit with complaints from parents of disabled kids complaining about the derogatory reference to “the short bus.”

In places where most kids are bused, riding the “short bus” is the first of many points at which disabled kids are separated from their peers. Before they even reach school, kids with physical and intellectual disabilities are labeled by riding on a different bus. Few traditional-sized school buses have wheelchair lifts and the number of children on them means that it is difficult to provide extra support for those with cognitive or social issues. So disabled kids ride in a smaller or “short” bus.    

The dealership knew this – that’s why they compared the short bus to the horror of being seen in a wimpy truck. It has since apologized and donated money to the local Special Olympics.

While I completely agree with the outrage of the Idaho parents, I was struck by how foreign this sounded to me.

My son rides a short bus. It pulls up in front of our house every morning and afternoon. I’ve never thought of it as an embarrassment. In fact, it is the highlight of Deane’s day.

Maybe I’m not ashamed because we live in a city where most kids walk to school. A bus of any length is unusual. Our local school – across the street – is not wheelchair accessible so Deane would have to take a bus to any school he went to and because so few kids are bused, it would be a short bus.

I’ve never heard or seen any negative reaction to our bus – except from the parents in their cars stuck waiting as Deane gets off. Most kids on the street are fascinated by the lift that Deane rides and wait patiently on the sidewalk for him to get on or off.

Clearly the reaction to a short bus is a matter of context. Where busing is the norm, being on the short bus is just one more stigma attached to disability. Where buses are unusual, it is more a source of curiosity, almost enviable. I guess we lucked out on this one. In the world of disability, you’ve got to take the positives wherever you can find them.

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