Elevator attendant who uses wheelchair knows firsthand the importance of accessibility

05.18.21

Elevator attendant who uses wheelchair knows firsthand the importance of accessibility

By MELISSA JORDANStitt on his first day of work as an elevator attendant getting instructions from a supervisor
BART Senior Web Producer

BART’s newest elevator attendant knows firsthand the importance of accessibility and having clean and safe elevators. Michael Stitt uses a wheelchair himself and is the first BART elevator attendant to do so.

He was working a shift last Thursday at Civic Center Station, his third day on the job, and already encountered people who thanked him for the presence he provides. “I’m here to manage the flow, to make sure everything goes smoothly,” Stitt said.

The elevator attendant program in downtown San Francisco stations, operated for BART by community partner Urban Alchemy, started in April 2018 and has been going strong ever since, including throughout the pandemic.

A BETTER EXPERIENCE

Stitt is a native of San Francisco and has frequently used public transportation, contending at times in the past with elevators that were dirty or were used for illicit activities. Having attendants, he said, “makes it safer, and a much better experience.”  (Image at right: Stitt on his first day of work as an elevator attendant getting instructions from a supervisor.)

He also has met people using the elevator who seemed surprised to see a person in a wheelchair doing the job; “They’re like, ‘Wow, you’re in a chair doing this!,’ and it makes me feel good.”

Stitt heard about the position from Hospitality House, a nonprofit community-based organization in the Tenderloin neighborhood that runs programs for underserved populations, including a jobs training and placement program.

HELPING PEOPLE WHERE THEY ARE

“We love Michael,” said Tiffany Jackson, the manager of Hospitality House’s employment program, which helps low-income and homeless jobseekers and has operated throughout the pandemic. “We meet people where they are,” Jackson said.  “Folks can come in and get access to services on the spot. We give them a voucher to get an ID, a birth certificate, a Social Security card. We help them make a resume. If they need clothes for an interview, we buy them clothes.”

Tanya Bishop, director of the elevator attendant program for Urban Alchemy, was impressed with Stitt’s preparation for his job interview. “He had done his application online, he made sure he had all his paperwork, he was looking sharp,” said Bishop, who’s seen candidates show up in flip-flops knowing nothing about a job. “He did his homework and was very professional,” she said.Stitt at his job interview with Urban Alchemy Elevator Attendant Program Director Tanya Bishop and Deputy Director Vincent Cofie


(Image at right: Stitt at his job interview with Urban Alchemy Elevator Attendant Program Director Tanya Bishop and Deputy Director Vincent Cofield)

REPRESENTATION MATTERS

Paula Fraser, BART’s Assistant Chief Transportation Officer for the downtown San Francisco line who broke barriers as a gay woman in a predominantly straight male industry, said there is power in representation for people with disabilities.

“When I started I didn’t see people who looked like me,” she said. “I think this will be important for people who use mobility devices, to see someone doing this job who truly understands what they’re going through and how critical it is that we have an accessible system.”

Stitt and other elevator attendants work with walkie-talkies so they have backup and support in their roles.  He credited the training from Hospitality House, Urban Alchemy and BART for preparing him well to do the job.

“Everyone has been so encouraging,” Stitt said. “They’ve shown me all the right things to do. The support is really great.”

"IF THEY NEED ME, I'M THERE"

Stitt isn’t sure what schedule he will be on or what station, but he’s ready for whatever comes his way, and he encourages customers to come by and say hello.

“If they need me, I’m there,” he said.