By Mike Strobel, Toronto Sun
First posted: Tuesday, August 04
TORONTO – This week, 1,600 athletes descend on Toronto for the Parapan Am Games.
They will perform feats of power, skill and grace that belie their disabilities. They will have little trouble getting around their venue. I should hope so. It’s the Parapan Am Games, for Pete’s sake.
Some will walk, or roll, off with medals. They might head from their venue to a bar or restaurant to celebrate. And that’s where the trouble starts.
We’re told we’re an accessible city. The Wynne government crows that it is super wheelchair friendly. On Tuesday, it boasted its games have “raised the bar” on accessibility. “Raised the bar” is right. Accessible, Ms. Wynne? My rickety old ass!
“The Ontario government claims we’re No. 1 in the world (in accessibility),” says lawyer and disabled advocate David Lepofsky.
“But we’re far behind comparable U.S. cities, we’re far behind where we should be, and we’re far behind where the Ontario government promised we would be.”
You mean the Parapan Am Games haven’t caught us up?
“No. Not at all. It’s a huge missed opportunity.
“Once they (disabled athletes, tourists and fans) leave the tiny bubble of competition venues and go out to find something to eat or go to the washroom or do whatever visitors do, we’ve done nothing to increase their accessibility.”
Even this late, he says, Wynne’s bureaucrats could do something for games-goers.
For instance, they could help eateries near Parapan Am venues print Braille menus and install simple ramps.
Quick, cheap, effective.
Don’t hold your breath. The squeaky wheel gets the grease in Toronto. Maybe the disabled need squeakier wheelchairs.
I’m reminded of this when reader James Christie tells me how hard it is to be a country music fan in this town when you’re in a wheelchair and vision impaired.
Christie, 35, of Mississauga, was a regular at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre, to see the likes of Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney until they moved the wheelchair seats to the back of the 300 section. (Live Nation claims this actually improved sightlines.)
Christie would haunt Hugh’s Room, the Roncesvalles Village music landmark if only staff or patrons didn’t have to haul him up the stairs and if only he could use the washroom.
“Basically, when I leave, I have to rely on a couple of drunks to carry me back down the stairs.”
For most of us, accessibility is just a big word.
For Christie, who has cerebral palsy, it is the difference between existing and living. It is practical. Sadly, it is a crap shoot.
The Princess of Wales Theatre is “incredibly” wheelchair friendly, he says, but the Royal Alex spaces are up against the speakers, the ACC’s are too high and many other venues and restaurants in the city might as well be on Mount Everest.
You already know this if you are confined to a chair or even if you’re a new mom pushing a pram. Apparently no one has told Premier Wynne.
On Tuesday, her ministers fell over themselves boasting of their wheelchair friendliness.
“Our government is working hard to ensure that accessibility is not only highlighted during the Pan and Parapan Am Games, but that it becomes a key priority … in our society,” infrastructure minister Brad Duguid declared in a press release.
Michael Coteau, minister responsible for the games, boasted, “Our legacy investment … has raised the bar for accessibility.”
Neither politician mentioned that next to nothing has been done by Queen’s Park since it unanimously and dramatically passed the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act in 2005.
Two reports since then, one by a former Liberal MPP, have scolded the province for falling far behind in the act’s goal of full accessibility by 2025.
As usual, the Wynne crowd plays dodgeball.
Lawyer Lapofsky, who is blind, had to file a freedom of information request in 2013 just to find out if the act is being implemented.
No wonder the bureaucrats balked. He learned “not one compliance order had been written, not one dime in penalties issued” to businesses ignoring the disability act.
Funny, eh, how Kathleen Wynne can make your kiddies learn about anal sex, force you to carpool with strangers, redistribute wealth willy-nilly and waste billions on boondoggles but she ignores citizens who actually need a break.
There’s a lot of those, too, so it’s even bad politics. An estimated 1.8 million Ontario voters have some disability and none of us is getting any younger.
Parapan Am Games?
If there’s such a thing as wheelchair hogwash, Ms. Wynne wins gold.
Strobel’s column usually runs Monday to Thursday.