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CITY TV Reporter Leaves T.O. — Accessibility an Issue

By JOE WARMINGTON,
Toronto Sun
Last Updated: September 6, 2010 8:37pm

Toronto for me won’t be the same without Tara Weber wheeling around and chasing stories.

Sadly Citytv is losing the top-notch reporter to Calgary. But there is more to this story than a job offer for a much sought-after on-air talent.

And perhaps some lessons learned?

“I hate to leave but it’s just not easy for me to live here,” the 29-year-old Kelowna, B.C. native told me. “Ever since I came here in 2003 to go to Ryerson,
I have found it so difficult to get around and it doesn’t seem to be getting better.”

Tara — a paraplegic since she suffered a broken back in a car accident at age 17 — is as tough a journalistic competitor as there is. She combines grace
with grit and does not use the chair as a hindrance or advantage — unless, of course, she can get an advantage for her story.

I have seen tough nuts like Leafs GM Brian Burke or Gen. Walter Natynczyk — chief of defence staff — show extreme class, and perhaps favour, by kneeling down to give her an exclusive. We tease her about the special treatment but also note she could not join us at the Irish Embassy for a pint after because there are several steps and she’s too proud, and perhaps stubborn, to mention it.

Tara is fiercly independent and in the years I have known her this is the first time her wheelchair has become a topic of conversation.

“I am not an advocate or spokesperson,” she stressed. “I just thought I should say something before I leave.”

She left Citytv last Friday and heads west Wednesday. She sent a note to Mayor David Miller, as well as those running to replace him, about one of the reasons why.

“I’ve interviewed you all and have enjoyed meeting every one of you,” she wrote. “I just wanted to let you know that I’ve left my job and am leaving Toronto to go out west. A big part of my decision to leave is the lack of wheelchair access in this city. I’ve lived in various places throughout Canada and can honestly say Toronto is one of the least accessible.”

She also wrote “the majority of places in this city are not wheelchair accessible — bars, restaurants, transit stations, bathrooms and even stores.”

Tara is able to drive which is good because she tells me the TTC is useless to her.

“Take, for example, the two TTC stations on the Danforth that will be going under massive renovations at a cost of close to $4 million. At the end of all
that planning, work and expense, neither The Donlands station, nor the Greenwood station, will become wheelchair accessible. This could have been the perfect opportunity to make them so.”

She also challenged them by saying “many of you took part in the CPA’s (Canadian Paraplegic Association’s) day in a wheelchair recently. Even just trying to get around for an hour must have opened your eyes to Toronto’s shortcomings. Rob Ford pointed out that I couldn’t even run for city council in Toronto because I wouldn’t be able to access the chambers.

“I know the premier has pledged to make Ontario fully accessible by 2025 … In the meantime, nothing is being done to bring Toronto closer to that goal.
There simply appears to be no political will.”

There certainly, though, seems to be political will for bicycle lanes, green projects, artists’ communes, Councillor Kyle Rae’s travel diary and bunny suits.

Has Tara issued Toronto a wake-up call? She is hoping it can become an election campaign issue.

It’s not working so far. No one has responded.

The only response I got back was from TTC spokesman Brad Ross who clarified “there are two separate projects for those stations. One is the second exit being constructed, the other involves elevators; elevators will be installed at the main entrances” and that “all subway stations will be accessible by
2024.”

Tara is hopeful things will get better but it won’t happen soon enough to keep her around.

Reproduced from http://www.torontosun.com/news/columnists/joe_warmington/2010/09/06/15260656.html