The world has watched Toronto for the past two months as the city hosted the Pan Am and ParaPan Am Games. Given that the city is renowned worldwide, you might think that it has gone the extra mile to provide a welcoming environment for visitors of all abilities. This is not the case – a great deal of work still needs to be done. On August 24, Jeremy Appel wrote an article in the Toronto Sun which gives a general overview of obstacles faced by residents with physical disabilities. He interviewed Leandre Casselman of Spinal Cord Injury Ontario, who explained that “most new businesses that are built nowadays from the ground up are accessible, but all the old ones aren’t. There isn’t even enough room” to perform necessary renovations. Furthermore, the costs of these modifications create a roadblock and disincentive for business owners. How many more patrons could they gain if new doors were opened (and steps were leveled)?
Financial losses are not the only penalty the city pays without knowing. Toronto is also losing talent. In 2010, CityTV reporter Tara Weber left Toronto for Saskatchewan, citing the inaccessibility of transit, stores, and other necessities. Weber has been a manual wheelchair user since she injured her spine in a car accident at age 17.) Everyday occurrences for the average Canadian – finding housing, transit, employment, and leisure activities – can be daunting to someone with a mobility issue. Only in the last two to three years have newer streetcar models been made available which are accessible to wheelchair users. (Personally, I find the fact that my walker wheels have gotten stuck in the tracks a few times to be a more pressing issue than riding the cars themselves.) A map of Toronto’s subway system has also gone viral, showing that only a small portion of the stations are wheelchair-friendly. How will the city handle an increasing number of senior residents who rely on canes, scooters, wheelchairs, and walkers to get around?
Appel also spoke with David Lepofsky, a lawyer working with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. Lepofsky, who is blind, says the biggest problem with accessibility standards is a lack of enforcement. “If the speed limit on the 401 was optional, nobody would follow it.” Compliance with provincial accessibility legislation is not currently monitored.
Thankfully, Ryerson University student Mayaan Ziv has one solution: users of mobility devices should be able to inform each other of potential obstacles.
Ziv has designed a website called AccessNow that allows users to locate and evaluate the accessibility of services within the city. Categories include “accessible,” “partially accessible,” “not accessible,” or “patio access only.” For example, I could find a diner on Church Street that is listed as “partially accessible.” Its main entrance is barrier free, but the bar is not. Another restaurant on Spadina Avenue has been deemed “not accessible” because there is one large step at the entrance. Allowing specific comments to be made is extremely helpful for those with multiple mobility devices. My walker allows me to navigate some areas that would be impossible in my electric wheelchair.
Pro-life people are regularly accused of only caring about human beings before they are born. While I would not go that far, I know that individuals with conditions such as spina bifida or Down syndrome are frequently highlighted in our work. It’s only fair that my fellow advocates learn more about the barriers faced by some Canadians with disabilities. Once their existence outside the womb is secured, they should have the resources and freedom to live the best life possible.
Taylor Hyatt is a linguistics major at Carleton University and frequent contributor to The Interim.