Accessibility has always been a challenge for people with disabilities. I’m fortunate to live in the City of Toronto where I have the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, AODA. Enacted in 2005, it is supposed to enhance accessibility within our province and make Ontario fully accessible by 2025.
But now, there’s also whispers of a proposed federal accessibility guideline similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which possibly could make things easier for all Canadians with disabilities; not just key provinces.
Even though the act has made things easier for a person with a disability, in Ontario, there are still numerous physical and discriminatory challenges that frequently happen. Take for example riding transit. For a person with a mobile disability, not all subways are wheelchair accessible. The ones that are accessible may have issues such as broken-down elevators or elevators that are in perpetual repair. There’s one at Kennedy station for example that has been down since October and the wait for it to be back in service keeps being extended. See this story: Elevator down for Repairs
Snow proves to be quite the challenge as well. If sidewalks aren’t cleared after major storms, (which happens), this means anybody using mobility devices are stranded.
I recently had to reach out to my city representative, as it had been more than 72 hours and the sidewalks had still not been ploughed which could be deemed a safety issue for everyone. Things seem to have improved since then. For information on sidewalk clearing in Toronto, read this story: It snowed. Now who has to do the shoveling?
As a blind person, I frequently encounter discrimination when using taxis or ride share services. The most recent situation was last Tuesday morning when an Uber Assist driver stated he had dog allergies and drove away. To his credit, he did order another car for me, but that’s beside the point. If you’re going to drive for Uber Assist, you are going to encounter dogs. I gather the one hour online training had not sunk in with this particular driver. I reached out to both Uber and Uber Canada on Twitter, but they have not responded as of this writing. Turns out this is not an isolated issue either. See this story: UberAssist driver fined for denying ride to Paralympian
Okay, but what about the accessibility win you ask? Well, this is exciting, for me anyway. I frequently use the Kennedy subway station. Currently, there is a lot of construction around that area due to the Eglinton Crosstown project. Pedestrian traffic has been affected and rerouted via a lighted intersection. This is all fine and dandy, but the lighted intersection did not have audible pedestrian signals. Most of the time, this isn’t an issue, as I can read traffic fairly well. But this particular intersection has 2 bus turning lanes, pass through traffic for the parking lot and passenger drop off area; so yeah, pretty busy and confusing.
Addressing this issue proved to be more challenging than I first had thought. The transit folks said it wasn’t their issue, since the intersection is owned by the city, even though it’s on transit property. Turns out this was true, as what I thought was a driveway is actually a street. So off I go to bug the city about the intersection. They stated they could fix it within 4 hours. I was ecstatic. It was short-lived however, as I got a callback to inform me that a 4 hour turn-around is for a broken or defective traffic light. In order to have an accessibility assessment for this crossing, a request would have to be created and this would take a minimum of 9 months for it to be acted upon. I put in the request, without too much hope. Four hours to 9 months for a solution is pretty disheartening.
A few days later, I figured it was time to try a new tactic.
I decided to approach the Crosstown folks and my local city representative… and this is where the magic begins. I explained the situation via a well-worded email. The response was swift, (under an hour), and audible pedestrian signals were installed by end of day! That sort of thing is unheard of in Toronto. It’s been my experience that to install an audible signal on an existing traffic light location, it takes up to 3 years for it to happen. The last 3 requests that I have made through the city were installed after I moved away from the areas and that defeats the purpose; although I’m sure other people benefit from them.
Anyway, all this to say a simple thank you to the folks at MetroLinx working on the CrossTown project and also the construction team that installed the audible signals. It’s because of your swift response and actions that myself and others are now able to safely cross a very busy intersection. This is a true example of how accessibility can be quickly implemented when we all work together. Hopefully, the city of Toronto could learn from this example and expediate the installation of audible traffic signals. Why not just make it a standard that all new traffic signals include the audible feature!