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Accessibility Challenges

Posted November 17, 2010
To the editor:

A few months ago the course of my life changed direction and I’ve found myself dependant on crutches and a wheelchair while wearing a cast. Mine was a complex injury that was not going to heal quickly. Due to the prolonged length of time, I’ve had first hand experience on trying to function in a community not always accessible to the disabled.

It did not take me long to discover that places such as doctors offices, rehab facilities and pharmacies, to name a few, are not necessarily conducive to
those on crutches or in wheelchairs. I found it mind-boggling to discover some of these places are owned by hospitals or physicians.

Being a health care provider myself, I thought we were supposed to promote health and independance. I have since found out differently.

Is it the thinking that all disabled people are accompanied by a personal attendant, because this is not true. I am fortunate I can still drive, however
I cannot get my wheelchair in or out of my vehicle when I am alone. Therefore, I must rely solely on my crutches. Some stores do have wheelchairs or scooters to use while you shop, which I am grateful for and have taken advantage of. Other stores make it almost impossible to shop so I am learning which businesses to avoid. Some have narrow isles or are over crowded with racks, making it near impossible to access what you came in for.

One of my biggest challenges is getting through a door when there is no automatic button available. I have had to rely on strangers, ask people off the
street or just wait until someone enters or exists the building, hoping they will hold open the door for me. The first time I attempted to open doors myself
while on crutches, non-weight bearing with my leg in a cast, I lost my balance and fell outside my doctor’s office building. Since then, I refuse to struggle
with doors. It is not worth the risk.

What about the department store I needed to shop in? Accessible parking available, automatic doors (a bonus for me), wheelchair-size bathroom stall, but no way to get into the actual ladies room as you have to push or pull open the door. Once inside the washroom with my crutches, I could not open the door to exit. Luckily I had my cell phone which I used to contact my spouse who was still in the store.

For the most part, I can say the people I’ve encountered have been willing to assist and open doors for me. Some even apologize for not having automatic doors. I make it a point to say thank you to those who help my outings seem less of a struggle. I want to be as independant as possible but some things I just cannot do in my present state, and opening doors myself is definitely one of them. We still have a ways to go to make our community barrier-free and promote independance, thereby maintaining people’s self esteem and feelings of self worth.

Maybe things would be different if those in charge of making decisions, upgrading buildings or planning new facilities spent a week going about their daily activities in a wheelchair. How eye-opening would that be?

Prior to my injury, I was a physically active person who loved the outdoors. More than 10 weeks have passed, but hopefully my disability is only temporary. Hopefully, one day I will walk again unassisted. Unfortunately not all disabled people can say the same for themselves. We need to be mindful of them, be aware of their presence, and offer our support or assistance when needed. A little kindness can go a long way in making some-one’s day.

Until our community becomes barrier-free, the disabled will continue to struggle. Ontario’s plan is to become accessible by 2025. Some of us can’t wait
that long. Some of us don’t want to wait that long. The time is now to make a change. What are we waiting for?

Denise Stark

Article ID# 2848926

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