The civil court in Mechelen has issued a verdict against De Lijn, the Flemish public transport operator, for engaging in systematic discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Following a

lawsuit filed by four wheelchair users in November, the court ruled in favor of the claimants, awarding them symbolic compensation of 650 euros each.

Johan Heymans, the lawyer representing the claimants along with the equal opportunities center Unia, emphasized the significance of the court's decision, stating, "This verdict marks an important and infrequent acknowledgment." He highlighted that while the compensation is symbolic, the crucial aspect is the recognition of discrimination within the organization.

Expressing hopes for constructive dialogue, Heymans stated, "We have attempted discussions with De Lijn on numerous occasions previously, but it is imperative that this time our concerns are taken seriously." He emphasized the need for genuine acknowledgment of the issues to prevent further cases of discrimination within the transport system.

The claimants seek further engagement with De Lijn, aiming to address the persistent challenges faced by wheelchair users in accessing transportation services. Heymans stressed the importance of addressing these issues promptly to prevent additional instances of discrimination.

During the trial, the claimants outlined several grievances, including inconsistent availability of access ramps on buses and drivers' lack of familiarity with using them. Additionally, they cited instances where drivers refused to accommodate wheelchair users, citing time constraints. The court found notable similarities among these cases, dismissing them as beyond mere coincidence.

In response to the ruling, De Lijn stated that it is reviewing the verdict alongside its legal advisors. A spokesperson reiterated the company's commitment to providing equitable service, stating, "We, as De Lijn, stand firm in our position that we do not engage in discriminatory practices. Our aim is to ensure optimal service for all passengers."

The company is assessing the implications of the court's decision and considering potential next steps while affirming its commitment to offering inclusive transportation services to all passengers. Photo by Alfenaar from Alphen aan den Rijn, Netherlands, Wikimedia commons.