06 August 2013

Guest Post: Big Business Discrimination against the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing

Editor's Note: Unfortunately, discrimination against the deaf and hard-of-hearing by big businesses is nothing new; just a few weeks ago a New York City Starbucks caught the nation's attention for allegedly mocking and discriminating against its deaf customers.
We feel the worst part of these stories are not the ignorant lower-level employees, but rather the way the HR departments ignore resulting complaints, as if deaf people's rights (and money) are of less importance. This week, ASL music video YouTube sensation Matthew Maxey writes about his experience with a Greyhound ride gone wrong.-Sara

My name is Matthew Maxey. On August 4, 2013, my girlfriend of 2 years, Kimberly Kearney, and I were headed back to Jacksonville, Florida after a weekend in Atlanta. We decided to ride the Greyhound bus because we never had any issues with them before, and because the ticket prices were very affordable. We took the bus from Atlanta to Savannah at 8:10 pm, and on that trip, I asked the bus driver if we would need to switch buses in Savannah. That driver was very nice and accommodating, communicating that he wished we had told him that we were deaf from the start so that he could help make sure we had a great trip and knew where to go. That showed that there are some quality drivers working with Greyhound that do know how to accommodate a deaf person. 
Once we got to Savannah at around 1:15 am, we had to switch buses for a 1:30 am departure to Jacksonville. Kimberly and I proceeded to get in line, and we saw multiple people getting on the bus with multiple bags. Kimberly was able to bring 3 bags on-board, but the new bus driver refused to let me bring my duffel bag and backpack on-board, and even physically prevented me from doing so. When I tried to ask why I couldn't bring it on-board, she refused to look me in the face, and instead began yelling at me, which I couldn't understand. I told her that I was just trying to ask what was going on and that I was deaf, so that hopefully she would communicate with me. I even showed her my hearing aids out of frustration, and she still refused to converse with a paying customer and told me to go somewhere else. 
I waited again at the end of the line of passengers getting on the bus, hoping that with nobody behind me in line that the bus driver would finally comply and explain to me why I couldn't bring both bags on-board when other people were bringing on even more bags. She then proceeded to tell me that she would kick me off the bus, to which I responded with, "Just for asking questions? That's against the law!" I finally just put my backpack under the bus and got on the bus with Kimberly. Feeling truly baffled about this, I was still trying to ask why, but now a security guard began telling me to sit down, hush up, be quiet, and to stop being disrespectful. I said, "Why am I the one having to shut up and be respectful, when I am a paying customer, and this bus driver is being rude, disrespectful and completely unwilling to cooperate when she is supposed to be a professional!" That didn't work, and I just gave up trying to talk to them. 
The bus then ended up breaking down before we left the Savannah bus station. Due to the complete lack of effort in communicating, Kimberly and I had no idea what was going on. Kimberly then went inside the bus station to figure out how to file a complaint. The same security guard that was on the bus told Kimberly that it was pointless to file a complaint because the bus was unsafe to drive. Kimberly then clarified that she wanted to file a complaint in regard to the bus driver's refusal to accommodate our deafness, which was against the law. Using paper and pen, Kimberly was still trying to communicate, and the guard told her, "Read my lips." Still being persistent, Kimberly mouthed in frustration to write it down, and he wrote back that they don't use sign language. Kimberly informed them that there are other ways to communicate and that we were still willing to work with them if they would work with us. Another front desk agent ended up continuing the conversation while he sat down, and she was helpful, providing Kimberly with the information she needed. 
Our bus was supposed to leave at 1:30 am and we didn't leave until 4:00 am. This was still the same bus that the guard told us was "unsafe to drive, and pointless to file a complaint for." On that bus, we headed to Jacksonville, and at about 7:00 am the bus broke down 0.4 miles away from the Jacksonville bus station. Multiple people complained about the service, delays, lack of air conditioning, the bus driver's attitude, and more. Three people tried to get off the bus to go to their luggage under the bus, and I saw the bus driver chasing after the customers, ignoring what they were saying and pushing them back onto the bus. I thought to myself, "Wow, this is crazy. No way a bus driver should be putting their hands on people in a forceful way; that's not their job." 
Kimberly and I were waiting patiently, when I heard the announcement that we could get our bags to put on another bus to get to the station. I jumped up to start getting my bags since we were sitting by the front of the bus. The bus driver then told me to sit down, and I said, "You just told us to get our bags and get ready to go." She then grabbed my arm forcibly and tried to make me move out of her way when I told her, "Please don't touch me. Stop touching me please." I moved out of the way, and then Kimberly told the bus driver that she could go ahead now. The bus driver was rude, disrespectful and nasty towards Kimberly, telling her, "Don't touch me!" which she never did. 
By this point, I was fed up and started yelling back at the bus driver: "You can't be grabbing people by the arms, pushing and shoving people, yelling in everybody's faces, you're supposed to be a professional!" She stormed off the bus. We followed her off the bus to get to the other bus, I looked for the backpack that was under the bus, and she screamed, "We moved it to the other bus already, do you understand me?!?!" Of course we didn't know that, but the other bus driver explained it to us calmly, and that's how we understood what was going on. I proceeded to call the police because I have never had someone else, in a professional environment, put their hands on me when they know they're not supposed to. People on the bus were witnesses, sympathizing with us, agreeing with us that this bus driver was ridiculous. We got to the bus station in Jacksonville and talked with the police after arrival. They allowed us to proceed with filing charges against her for simple battery. My mother called customer service for Greyhound, was put on hold for 2 hours, and after explaining the whole situation, Greyhound chose to refund only $25. We paid $100 total for 2 round trip tickets from Jacksonville to Atlanta, and we were supposed to be back in Jacksonville by 3:45 am. We didn't get off the bus until 8:00 am, making this a 12 hour long ordeal. 
All of this could have been handled in a much better way if that female bus driver had just helped her two deaf customers to understand, but it was poorly handled. Never in my life have we felt so hopeless and disrespected about being deaf, especially when we weren't trying to cause any problems and when it wasn't our fault. This should not have happened. That's why we're speaking up and sharing our story so that actions can be taken and changes can be made.
-Matthew Maxey and Kimberly Kearney

PS. Check out Matthew's ASL music videos!


  1. Matthew and Kimberly,

    Sadly, I believe your experience with Greyhound was VERY typical.

    Greyhound caters to a low-income demographic. In 2010, 2/3 of Greyhound passengers had an annual income of less than $35,000. Although Greyhound doesn't post this publicly, you can verify this information here:


    Because Greyhound caters to a low income demographic, there is little to no attention paid to delivering competent customer service; after all, if you had the funds, you wouldn't take the bus, you would fly. In other words, most Greyhound passengers take the bus because they don't have a choice for inter-city transportation.

    If you look at Greyhound's FB Wall, the postings on the wall are very typical of the experiences of customers. I don't believe you were singled out because you are deaf, you received the typical sub-standard service that Greyhound delivers.

    Thanks for your posting - and good luck!

    Shawn Ambrose

  2. I was still trying to ask why, but now a security guard began telling me to sit down, hush up, be quiet, and to stop being disrespectful. I said, "Why am I the one having to shut up and be respectful, when I am a paying customer, custom printed carrier bags