Tuesday 10 December 2019

'I have the best job in the world': Meet Dublin city's unsung hero

Bus assistant Roger Flood tells Melanie Finn why helping people with additional needs on public transport is the most rewarding job in the world

Dublin Bus' Roger Flood who works with customers like wheelchair user Joe Doyle from Harolds Cross with the Dublin Bus Travel Assistance Scheme
Dublin Bus' Roger Flood who works with customers like wheelchair user Joe Doyle from Harolds Cross with the Dublin Bus Travel Assistance Scheme
Dublin Bus' Roger Flood
Melanie Finn

Melanie Finn

'I have the best job in the world. Some people are crying going to work; I'm nearly crying coming home as I feel like I've had such a fantastic day," says Dublin Bus worker Roger Flood (54).

You've probably never heard of him, but this soft-spoken Dubliner is one of the capital city's unsung heroes.

Since 2008, he has been working tirelessly as a travel assistant, helping people with a wide range of additional needs to navigate the city's bus network as part of the Dublin Bus Travel Assistance Scheme.

And there are no lengths he won't go to help people, often spending weeks training service-users to make one small but hugely important journey. For someone with a visual impairment, Roger will put on a blindfold and navigate the journey from their house to the bus stop, just to see first-hand the safety hazards they will encounter.

For someone in a wheelchair, he will walk the journey they want to take all the way from their house to their destination so he can pinpoint all the obstacles along the way.

To date, he has helped over 1,200 service-users take the bus, helping them to achieve a sense of independence and, crucially, boost their feelings of self-esteem.

He has helped students with various disabilities, from autism to Down syndrome, start a new college course; brought people to job interviews, and in the case of one man with agoraphobia, helped get him to his son's wedding.

For most able-bodied commuters, the biggest challenge is getting a seat or using the Wi-Fi.

But for someone with a physical disability or a visual impairment, taking the bus, even for a short journey, can seem like an insurmountable obstacle. Roger is now an invaluable link for many of these people, who wouldn't necessarily be able to leave the house without his assistance.

Gerard (Stan) McCauley (61) from Clondalkin was walking home on the night of August 17, 2015, and had reached Bawnogue when everything "just went blank".

The married father-of-three says that doctors suspect he tried to get up and fell three times. If it weren't for a passer-by seeing him lying on the ground, his fall could have had a very different outcome.

He "burst his head open" and suffered a serious head injury, having stopped breathing three times.

He spent months recovering and was eventually put in contact with Headways, who help people with acquired brain injuries. Gerard has been left with memory loss as a result and can get confused by bus numbers.

The first time he came into the city centre on his own after his accident was terrifying, he says. Despite living in Clondalkin all his life, he couldn't remember which bus to take home and wandered around O'Connell Street for some time before finding his way back.

Headways put him in contact with Roger, who like with all service-users, met him at the door of his house in Clondalkin and brought him to his local bus stop and talked him through the entire journey.

The first few times, he brought him to Marley Park, where Gerard did some volunteer gardening work. They have met up several times over the past two years and Gerard says that if he's ever stuck, he contacts Roger: "I'm amazing. I'm full of confidence going about the place now."

This special service is free to anyone over 18 and Roger - who works with two other travel assistants - asks people to email him about a week before the initial meeting, providing as much information as possible. There's no limit on the amount of times they can access the service.

Wheelchair user Joe Doyle (51) from Harold's Cross described the service as "brilliant". Prior to accessing it, getting around Dublin could be tricky.

"With the Dart, you have to give them notice where you're getting on and off, so you have to ring ahead. Sometimes the lifts don't work, as you have to have somebody at the station to get the ramp and it's the same with Irish Rail - you have to give them notice," he explains.

After contacting Dublin Bus, Roger travelled to Joe's house in Harold's Cross and accompanied him on the journey to the bus stop, checking out all the potential hazards along the way.

Roger makes sure the ramp is extended - there's a button beside the door that controls this - and assists Joe safely to his destination.

Roger gives all service-users a similar message to ask bus drivers: "Is this the 46A, can you please let the ramp out and wait until I sit down?"

Now, Joe's able to travel independently and regularly visits his mum in a nursing home in Tallaght.

"Before I met Roger, I was always depending on other people to drive me around, or I'd get a taxi and they're not cheap. It's great to have my own independence as I don't drive," he said.

For Roger, it's clearly more than just a job - it's a vocation. A former special needs assistant (SNA) who also worked with homeless people, he said that it was "just in me, in terms of the type of work I want to do".

Once someone has requested the service, he will go out to their home and do a practice journey from the front door of the house to their destination, looking at all the safety issues along the way.

The first day is "all about them getting to know me and trust me" as he helps them reach their destination. Day two then, he greets them again at their front door, brings them onto the bus and makes sure they get home safely. On the third day, he meets them at the gate and for many, this is huge.

"It's massive for them to walk up the gate on their own. The family has closed the door and let them go and it's often a really big deal for them and their families to say, 'I'm letting this happen.'

"The next day then, I meet them at the bus stop. Everything's done at the person's pace and I would always put myself in their shoes. I always shadow them to make sure they're safe," he said.

"Once I know they're comfortable, I take a couple of steps back so they can do it for themselves, and the sense of pride that gives the person is unbelievable. I was working with a young girl who was blind and when she got on the bus herself for the first time, she put her cane against the window and did this little dance, like 'I did it.' She smiled the entire journey. It was absolutely fantastic."

Dublin Bus has lots of young people contacting them in early summer who are starting new jobs or courses in the autumn, and Joe works tirelessly with them over several months on making their journey. He says the majority of them are able to travel alone by September.

The travel assistant is also something of a matchmaker. He was asked to work with two young people living on opposite sides of the city who were boyfriend and girlfriend. Both were in residential care with no family on either side.

He trained the person on the northside to travel into the city centre independently and did the same for his southside friend.

"One day in town, I saw the two of them out on their own, holding hands and walking in the cinema together," he said. "There are so many beautiful stories." But he said that modern-day living has made it harder for those with additional needs.

"I think mobile phones make it so difficult for people with disabilities because everyone's on their phones with their ear-pieces in. They're not watching what's happening around them," he said.

He regularly goes into schools to raise awareness about issues facing people with additional needs, but he believes most Dubliners will go out of their way to help someone.

He often gets invites to weddings and 21st birthday parties and last month saw him being honoured with the Lord Mayor Award, which he modestly says was a "group effort". Job satisfaction is clearly in abundance for him.

"I absolutely love meeting someone for the first time and then seeing them go on and do the journey on their own. Seeing the sense of pride it gives them just feels fantastic," he said.

  • For more information, email customercomment@dublinbus.ie or call (01) 7033204.

Irish Independent

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