Woman spotlights disabled community amid Coast Guard transit changes

Ottawa County

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Haven woman is asking the community to be more considerate of people with disabilities after a transportation company said it will not offer rides directly to the beach Saturday.

Saturday will mark the last day of the annual Coast Guard Festival. The festival, which lasts nine days, will end with fireworks shot off at the waterfront.

Jamie Jazdzyk, who sometimes depends on a wheelchair, says she goes to the beach every weekend and hoped to enjoy the Coast Guard Festival this Saturday too. Jazdzyk says she normally uses the shuttle service from Harbor Transit but won’t be able to because the company augmented the route to limited service to accommodate the festival.

“Saturday is the biggest day of Coast Guard, when the most visitors are coming to the area. So, in order to help with traffic congestion and making sure residents and visitors can get to downtown more easily without having to fight for parking, we provide this park and ride service,” Annelise Walker with Harbor Transit said.

The park and ride service picks people up from seven different locations and drops riders off at 3rd Street and Columbus Avenue in downtown Grand Haven. While the park and ride shuttle attract lots of drivers, Jazdyzk says it’s not practical for people who depend on wheelchairs.

“I didn’t realize how important it was for everyone to feel included until I became one who wasn’t,” Jazdzyk said.

In 2016, Jazdzyk developed chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, an autoimmune disorder that targets the body’s nerve system. She says her life virtually changed overnight.

“I went for a run one night. I came home, went to bed and woke up the next day, swung my legs out of bed to stand up and I fell over. I had lost sensation in my lower legs,” Jazdzyk said.

Jazdzyk says to get to the beach this weekend, she would have to wheel more than half a mile to the nearest park and ride pickup location. She says after being dropped off downtown, she would then have to wheel 1.1 miles to get to the very beginning of the state park. Jazdzyk says the trip would likely require her to charge her chair before returning home and would be every more difficult for someone whose chair is not motor powered.

“Ultimately, there’s a toll that it takes every time I leave my door. It takes at least four times the amount of effort it would take an able-bodied person to do that, and transportation is one particular issue that’s always an issue to figure out,” Jazdzyk said.

Harbor Transit says they realize limited service can be inconvenient for some riders, but they can’t provide special services to select people per their policy.

“We realize that doing limited service, it is limiting like the name suggests, and we try to advertise that ahead of time as soon as we can to make sure anyone who will be impacted has time to make preparations,” Walker said. “In an ideal world, we would love to continue doing our normal service on Coast Guard Saturday, but it just isn’t possible with the number of people who come in town and need to use our park and ride service.”

Walker says all of their shuttle buses are fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and they will still offer rides for essential services, like doctors’ appointments, this Saturday.

Jazdzyk says she wants to use this moment to open people’s eyes to the experiences of others.

“We just want to enjoy the beach like everyone else,” Jazdzyk said.” Just take that one extra step to think, can everybody get there? Can everybody open this door? Even kindness and thinking about it and awareness of it will go a long way.”

Jazdzyk says the Grand Haven City manager offered to personally give her a ride to the beach this weekend after hearing her story. She’s planning to make the trek in her chair to show the challenges people with disabilities face.

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