Two social media campaigns are attracting attention to lackluster building, airline plans for people with disabilities.
David Lepofsky notes that the large “hangout steps” at Ryerson University’s Student Learning Centre can’t be used by people in wheelchairs. Despite an influx of design technology, Lepofsky said architects and city planners aren’t always aware of the hurdles they create. By Jessica Botelho-UrbanskiStaff Reporter
Tues., Aug. 9, 2016
Disability advocates are hoping social-media campaigns will publicly shame organizations into taking action on accessibility.
Tim Rose made headlines this month when he posted on Facebook about his harrowing back-and-forth with Air Canada, who refused to let him take a direct flight from Toronto to Cleveland because they said his wheelchair was too big to fit in the plane.
Rose started tweeting with the hashtag #wheelchairsarentluggage, in response to an Air Canada employee comparing his wheelchair to an oversized bag.
The hashtag has racked up hundreds of tags, including some by David Lepofsky, the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) Alliance.
Lepofsky started his own campaign a few months ago called #AODAfail. It asks Ontarians to point out narrow wheelchair ramps (or non-existent ones), uneven sidewalks and signs low in colour contrast anything that creates obstacles for people with disabilities.
People post photos of the barriers to social media, sometimes tagging government officials in an effort to crush complacency.
Under the AODA Act landmark legislation passed unanimously by the provincial government in 2005 Ontario needs to be fully accessible by 2025. Lepofsky doesn’t see the goal as realistic right now.
On a recent tour of downtown Toronto, he pointed out flawed areas in buildings constructed within the last five years, with money from the public purse. The Women’s College Hospital, Ryerson University’s Student Learning Centre and York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School were on his list of qualms.
Crossing the intersection at Bay and College Sts. to get to the hospital, he pointed out a first problem: no audio indicators of when to cross the street.
Lepofsky, who is blind, said he relies on traffic sounds to navigate the city as a pedestrian. He’s comfortable walking with a cane on the street, but wayfinding in some newer buildings is another story.
Navigating the wide, curved atrium at the Women’s College Hospital is like wading through the Atlantic Ocean, he said.
Before entering the atrium, there’s the matter of getting through the front doors. The hospital’s front entrance has poles on either side of the doors with sensors, so that when a guest waves a hand in front of the sensor, the door opens dissimilar to most hospital doors, which open automatically.
The washrooms nearest the front entrance of the hospital have signs written in Braille, but Lepofsky points out the Braille only indicates room numbers not whether the washrooms are meant for men, women or families.
“It’s hard to be that bad. It’s one thing not getting better, but it’s another thing making (accessibility) substantially worse,” Lepofsky said.
Tracy MacCharles, in her first interview after being appointed the provincial minister for accessibility in June, said she believes “it is attainable to have an accessible province by 2025.
“One thing we’re looking at specifically is maybe a certification of organizations so they can hold themselves up as really progressive organizations on accessibility,” MacCharles said.
Ontarians post #AODAfail on Twitter
“What’s going to be really important is that we all all the stakeholders and the businesses and the other organizations work together to share that vision. It has to be a shared vision, it can’t just be the government.”
Despite an influx of design technology, Lepofsky said architects and city planners aren’t always aware of the hurdles they create.
Another obstacle Lepofsky noticed is large “hangout steps” at Ryerson University’s Student Learning Centre. People in wheelchairs can’t use the stairs for their intended use of socializing. The wheelchair ramp leading up to the building winds to and fro through the “hangout steps,” and is sometimes blocked by people’s legs.
At York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, recent renovations included adding leaning pillars in the main atrium. The columns jut outward and have caused people to hit their heads, Lepofsky said. A spokesperson from York said they are looking at solutions.
Lepofsky is clearly frustrated by Ontario’s cascade of accessibility issues.
“They didn’t invent people with disabilities last week,” he said. “This is our world. So when you do a new building, you’ve really got to get it right.”