Published On Mon Jan 31 2011
ANDREW WALLACE/TORONTO STAR
Nazar Strejko held out his left hand and I swiped my palm across his and then I touched his middle finger. That’s sign language.
Nazar replied in kind, but he did not see me smile. He is deaf-blind; total, total. He lives at the Rotary Cheshire Home, on Willowdale Ave., in the north end of the city.
I don’t speak sign language, but Nazar was with an intervenor, Lessette Morales; she passed my questions to him, and she relayed his answers.
I had plenty of questions, all about the bus that passes in…
front of Nazar’s house. That route is being cut; not enough night riders.
Here is something that mayor Rob Ford and TTC Chair Karen Stintz might like to know: The Rotary Cheshire Home was built at 422 Willowdale Ave. precisely because the bus runs here, and because there is a bus stop by the front door.
The Rotary Cheshire Home was also built on Mel Lastman’s watch, and Mel was instrumental in helping secure that location. Sixteen people live in the home.
All are deaf-blind.
Here is another thing Ford and Stintz might like to know: the Canadian Helen Keller Centre is just down the street; it is where some 80 of Toronto’s deaf-blind go for training, for workshops, for weekday and weekend programs, in order to learn the skills they need for daily living.
They use the same bus.
Ford and Stintz and everyone else might like to know that the Rotary Cheshire Home, and the Canadian Helen Keller Centre, are the only two such facilities in the entire country.
In. The. Entire. Country.
And you might also like to know that one of the main reasons the deaf-blind rely on the bus is because WheelTrans is not an option for the deaf-blind, who are not considered disabled if they can walk.
Because the two facilities are so close together, the people who use the CHKC also visit the Cheshire Home for meetings and socials. I was there for casino night. For some of the deaf-blind, this would be their only social outing of the month.
I talked with Nazar before the blackjack began. Remember, we had the help of Lessette; the two of them used two-hand manual signing, whereby each word is tapped out, one letter at a time, on the other person’s hand.
Nazar said, “Crazy things are happening.” He also said, “It’s important for us to have the bus. It’s comfortable and safe to have it on the corner. It’s very important for the people who live here, and for the people who come to the Helen Keller Centre.”
That sentiment was echoed by everyone I talked to. I asked Nadine Anderson — yes, she is deaf-blind — what she would say to the mayor if she had the chance.
Nadine replied, “Why are you making cutbacks to accessible routes? Taking this bus away limits my independence.” The way she signed, with sharp hard gestures, you could tell she was ticked off.
Megan McHugh is president of the Deaf-Blind Association of Toronto. She said, “If the bus was cancelled, people couldn’t come to weekend classes. How can you get to the Finch bus if you can’t see or hear the flow of traffic?
And when I asked Nazar what he’d say to the mayor if he could, he shrugged, and then he laughed and slapped his forehead. “I’d say, please help us keep the bus.”
Rob Ford, Karen Stintz?
How dare you threaten Nazar and his neighbours for the sake of a few pennies; cut service to them, and I’ll show you a hand gesture or two; no translation necessary.