Carol In Your Corner: Getting There

CARP has long supported Age Friendly cities, which implies accessible and welcoming buildings, spaces and transportation for people of all ages and at all stages of life.  In most provinces it has been individuals with some kind of disability who have spearheaded initiatives which have resulted in at least some recognition of the difficulties they face, and – in some cases – changes in regulations that govern buildings and how to manage within them, and navigate between them.

wheelchair-accessA four hour stint in a wheelchair would be an eye-opener for those of us whose limbs are still in good working order.  Unfortunately, we would soon discover that many of the places we want to go and the way we have to get there present huge challenges.  What’s more, the words “accessible” and “barrier free”  – even where they exist, can – in spite of good intentions – present design problems that add to the long list of challenges those with disabilities encounter every day of their lives.

Every province has Building Codes, but too often, while new buildings must conform to accessibility and fire-prevention standards, older buildings are too often exempt.  Even where specific legislation exists, such as the AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act), a recent article in the Toronto Star by Tara Deschamps, pointed out that far too many businesses have fallen behind in filing compliance reports, which are meant to track how they are providing services, facilities, accommodations, employments and buildings that are truly accessible for everyone.  The goal is full compliance by 2025.  However, David Lepofsky, a lawyer and spokesperson for the AODA Alliance was quoted  saying “It is enormously frustrating.  At the rate we are going at now, I don’t think we will ever reach full accessibility”.  While Brad Duguid, Minister of Economic Development has defended the progress made so far and believes the province will meet its goal, others have called for more stringent efforts to bring about compliance.

Uneven pavement, curbs cut too steeply or not in the right place, narrow doors, restaurant tables too close together, bathrooms too small for a wheelchair to turn around, and grab bars not always in the right place are just some of the barriers that must be overcome.

While many newer buildings and some older ones refitted have been able to provide a much improved delivery of service, getting from point A to point B can provide another challenge.  Several cities and smaller communities have tried to make public transportation actually available to the entire public.  Often these programs have become more inclusive because of the actions of an individual or groups of individuals who live those lives, which makes them the real experts.

One such person is Heather McCain, founder and Executive Director of Citizens for Accessible Neighbourhoods, (CAN).  Based in Vancouver, CAN is celebrating ten years of remarkable progress in promoting accessible transportation in their community and beyond.

Their latest project is to create a post-hire, hands-on disability awareness training for taxi drivers.  Working with the Justice Institute of B.C. and with support from the B.C. Taxi Association, the training will be an extension of the Justice Institute’s current TaxiHost program which trains and certifies drivers with the focus on public safety.  The Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC) is this country’s foremost public safety educator.

Following their successful template used in other projects, CAN will consult with community stakeholders and content experts, seeking feedback on the current manual, so as to identify areas that need to be improved.  McCain emphasises that the training must meet the needs of people with varying disabilities, as well as seniors.  Creating training material is not enough; accountability must be built into the program in order to make sure the training is taught, understood and utilized.  She anticipates it will be ready to go in approximately one year, and will require drivers to renew by training every five years. The material will also be renewed to take into account the changes in mobility devices, as well as disability and age related issues as time goes by.

The initiative for this program is the result of the shift to more use of taxis by HandyDART, the Metro Vancouver-based service – similar to Toronto’s Wheel Trans, Montreal’s Médicar or programs in many other cities, which provide transportation for those with restricted mobility.

Heather McCain is one of those people who knows that situation intimately.  She contends daily with severe arthritis and associated conditions, uses a specially designed walker, and occasionally her power wheelchair.  Ten years ago, faced with the uncertainty and unreliability of what was available at the time, she began to contact the services that existed, such as Metro Vancouver’s public transportation network, Translink.  She soon realized that the best way to bring about recognition of the need for accessible and efficient transportation for all, was to offer consultation services to these organizations, to gather volunteers and partner with such organizations as The Rick Hansen Foundation, the Canadian Centre of Disability Studies, and others.  A major goal has been to create awareness via conferences with the Canadian Urban Transit Association, ProMOTION Plus, Women in Sport Leadership, the UN World Urban Forum, and many others.

CAN was also active during the 2010 Olympic-Paralympic Games, conducting accessibility assessments of the venues. CAN’s core services include Disability Awareness Seminars, the creation and delivery of  accessibility audits of existing services and venues, and they also make presentations to organizations on subjects related to their major services.  More information is available on their website, or by contacting them at [email protected]

In future issues we will continue to discuss transportation services for those with special needs, as these programs exist across the country.  For information about these services in your community, the federal government’s website: Access to Travel.

We will also explore what is termed “Universal Design” – which lays out what communities need in order to be open to everyone no matter what our age or any restrictions we might have.