John Benson, who recently helped a woman who was stuck on railroad tracks to safety, works in the Easy Does It shop, which has since moved, in 2017. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
It was the first call John Benson fielded that morning.
A woman using a wheelchair, the dispatcher told him, had broken down on the railroad tracks, near Hearst Street, in West Berkeley.
Benson runs a wheelchair repair shop through Easy Does It, an emergency service provider for Berkeley residents with physical disabilities. When he’s not patching up equipment or organizing recycled parts at the shop, Benson responds to calls for assistance from people who’ve run out of batteries or gotten flat tires.
Benson said he did not immediately take in the urgency of the situation when he got the West Berkeley call on Wednesday, June 6. He serves many people, including many homeless clients in that neighborhood, with various needs, and he took his time gathering his tools and picking up his work van. More….
EDI IN THE NEWS
I was in a bind. It was a Thursday night, around 6 p.m., and I had just wrapped up at the gym. As I rolled through the exit, I saw a text message from my evening attendant: He wasn’t feeling well and said he couldn’t come over to help me into bed. “Can you find someone else? I’m really sorry I can’t make it.” Finding a last-minute replacement would be tough. My roommates were out of town, and there wasn’t much time to call friends and see if any of their attendants were free. Luckily, Berkeley has a backup service that means I’ll never be left solo. “Rest well and no worries,” I replied. “If I can’t find anyone, I’ll just call Easy Does It.”
A Wise Measure
In 1998, the disability community in Berkeley, California, ran a campaign to promote independence. Many others had been in situations just like mine but had nobody to help them out, and they were forced to sleep in their wheelchairs or even call 911. They knew that there was a better way, so they drew one up in the form of the groundbreaking Measure E, which proposed establishing Easy Does It, a backup personal attendant service for Berkeley residents with disabilities for when they just couldn’t fill a shift or needed help unexpectedly. The plan was to fund EDI through a small property tax adjusted for inflation — about $800,000 in today’s dollars.
John Benson, called “Cripple A” by his clients, repairs a wheelchair in his Emeryville shop. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
On a recent morning, Benjamin Royer was doing donuts in his electric wheelchair. He spun round and round and round in the empty Emeryville parking lot outside the Easy Does It wheelchair repair shop, giggling loudly the whole time.
“I have to admit I’ve had this thing up in the air for a second or two,” he said, though he did not offer to demonstrate.
Royer, who is experiencing homelessness and lives in Berkeley, had not come to the repair shop just to show off his maneuvers. He had dropped in to fix the wheels on a walker that belonged to another homeless friend of his. He’d clearly been to the shop enough times to know his way around, plucking the right parts from the shelves and digging up a basket that could hold the Street Spirit newspapers his friend sells. He screwed it onto the walker and admired his handiwork.
“She’s going to hit the floor when she sees this thing,” said Royer.