Monday, March 7, 2011

Toronto: My Inaccessible City

Much of my city, Toronto, Ontario, Canada is inaccessible to people with physical disabilities.

The TTC, our public transit system, is perhaps the greatest example. Like many built environments, some of it is accessible, and some is not. There are elevators in only some stations. Why is this? Do people who use wheelchairs and walkers only live in some areas of the city?

Most buses are accessible now, but streetcars are not. Some parts of Downtown only have streetcars for public transit.

There are lots of other areas inaccessible to people. I wheeled around my York University campus a few years ago as part of my Disability and Society class, to get a sense of barriers and attitudes on campus. The ramps were so steep that it was very strenuous just to get up one. Going down was difficult too, as I would roll down so fast that I nearly ran into people. The pathways were made of bricks and many parts were uneven or hilly. It was very hard to wheel on them. Oh, and here's the topper: the Fine Arts building required me to get a key for an elevator from a caretaker or something. I didn't even bother because there wasn't enough time and I was exhausted.

When I applied for a job at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, I found out that, because it was deemed a National Historic Monument, elevators were not allowed to be built. I have a problem with this because it continues the tradition of exclusion and inaccessibility.

Toronto is largely accessible, probably better than many cities, but it isn't enough. People with disabilities should be able to access all buildings and public transit, but instead, there are still built environments that keep them out.

Some may argue that putting in elevators is too expensive or that the changes aren't important enough because they don't serve many people. Well, it may seem that way. I never see people in wheelchairs on the subway, but I'm sure I would if the system was more accessible to them. Inaccessibility makes people invisible. There are actually many people who require better access. We just don't see as many, and not just because we don't see wheelchairs on subways much.

Invisible disabilities are very common -- a whole other group that require better accessibility. Lots of people with heart problems, arthritis and many other conditions have a very hard time on stairs. Stairs may even be dangerous for them. Since we don't see a mobility device, maybe we don't see the need for accessibility.

We can't forget people with strollers. These people, mostly women, are very visible on the TTC, as is their struggle. It shouldn't be a struggle.

The TTC is renovating some stations and putting elevators in. This is progress and I hope it continues.


  1. I think about this everyone time I see someone hauling a stroller up a flight of stairs on the TTC. Yet another argument for more funding - it's hard to get these kinds of improvements done when your spending your budget on keeping buses on the road and the subway tracks maintained.

  2. Spending even a little time in a wheelchair, you really do see how much more complicated things are. How difficult.

  3. I think the historic building argument is hogwash. There may be some buildings that from a structural perspective really couldn't handle retrofitting but here in Chicago they dumped a giant spaceship into a historic stadium (Soldier Field) without much fuss. The real problem is there isn't the political will.

  4. I remember years ago I was at the Royal Alexander and there was an elderly woman in a wheelchair. She did not know there were no elevators in the theatre. Her family had bought seats in the balcony section. I remember hearing an employee tell the distraught family that it was a heritage building and wasn't required by law to have an elevator.

  5. Steve - This should be a priority for funding, I think. Budgets obviously go other places first. Thanks for your comment.

    Mythopolis - Being in a wheelchair for a short time, I got a glimpse of that. Thanks.

    Christopher - I think it's a silly argument too. They should be able to make it accessible.

    Sarah - Interesting. Their failure to share that the building was inaccessible shows you how little they really seem to care. Thanks, Sarah.