By Tom Holmes
Two offenders robbed a disabled Forest Park man as he exited an L train on Jan. 24.
Larry Biondi, who cerebral palsy has confined to a wheelchair, said this incident would not have happened if the Chicago Transit Service (CTA) provided the services they promised. Biondi acts as advocacy coordinator at the Progress Center for Independent Living, which provides social services to people with disabilities.
Biondi said he was travelling about 2:30 p.m. from the Progress Center at 7521 Madison St. to the Illinois Medical District for a dentist appointment. Because the train door is about four inches higher than the platform at that stop, people in wheelchairs need a CTA employee to place a ramp between the platform and the train. The CTA is supposed to call ahead and alert a customer assistant to have a ramp ready at the destination.
But as the doors opened at the stop that day, two young men approached Biondi, rather than the CTA employee. One man asked if he wanted to buy drugs, while the other reached for Biondi's cell phone, which was mounted in a bracket on the right arm of his wheel chair.
"I tried to move my right hand to prevent him, but I wasn't fast enough," Biondi said. "While he took it, the other guy grabbed the joy stick of my wheel chair and drove me half-way out the door."
Biondi then shifted his wheelchair into reverse, got back on the train and approached the guy who had his phone, grabbing his coat and yelling at him. The other offender grabbed Biondi's joystick and carted him off the train.
Biondi tried to tell a train operator what happened, but because cerebral palsy has impaired his ability to speak, the operator couldn't easily understand Biondi. She gave up trying, got back on the train and pulled away from the platform with the two offenders on board.
Biondi then approached another man on the platform and was able to make him understand the word "robbery." The man dialed 911, and Chicago police arrived about 10 minutes later to file a report. Biondi filed a complaint with the CTA on Feb. 5. The CTA did not respond to an interview request.
Clark Craig, a Progress Center employee and Biondi's primary translator, said the robbery would not have happened if the promised CTA employee had been present with a ramp, because his presence alone would have deterred the two muggers.
This incident reveals that "a big focus should be put on CTA operators and agents. Operators should be trained in disability awareness, to be more attentive and make sure that someone is there to help you get off the train," Clark said.
Biondi said his adrenalin was flowing when he re-boarded the train and approached the two robbers. But later on, "when what had happened had sunk in, I was in shock for two days and couldn't sleep," he said. "I have used the train again but still haven't used the Blue Line."