I went on a big outing! When I was down in the Phoenix area last month, it was my goal to get out for some type of excursion. My mom and I chose the Desert Botanical Gardens, because we love the desert and they stated that it’s accessible. Please be prepared for a huge rant and a load of ideas…
Complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) seems to be pretty easy as the terms are loose for what is required versus what is reasonable to ask of a business/entity.
I’ve experienced a whole life of physical privilege before now, and I never realized how poor most places are for accessibility. Like most people, I can only truly start to understand the complexity of a problem once I’ve experienced it. Accessibility is one of those things that I’m ashamed to say I never gave much thought to before it affected me. Before a few years ago, my thoughts of accessibility related to my dad’s knee surgeries, my grandfather’s Parkinson’s, our family friend’s severe visual impairment, and my Bubbie’s walker. At the time I had these people in my mind, I only thought about the quality of the stairs they had to do. They could all still do stairs. So I really had no idea what accessibility means, or the ramifications of it for people who need mobility devices to get around.
My university had elevators albeit a ridiculous distance away from each other. The main building had about…3 elevators that I can think of. I didn’t use a wheelchair at university but I couldn’t do stairs, so I learned all about the elevators and how far away they are from each other. If you were switching classes and needed to use an elevator to do so, chances are you would not show up on time. That was my experience anyway. Sidewalks with a big lip, big cracks, or harsh inclines can be a complete barrier to someone in a wheelchair. I bottomed out my wheelchair on a sidewalk in Mesa, and at first I wasn’t sure I would make it back to the hotel. We had to backtrack a fair ways to the crossing we had come from. We had to jaywalk, and a police officer driving around even stopped to ask if we needed help. Luckily at that spot, backtracking was possible.
I feel guilty about my ignorance and privilege regarding accessibility, but I’m trying to learn more now.
According to the ADA, section 36.304 Removal of barriers:
“(a) General. A public accommodation shall remove architectural barriers in existing facilities, including communication barriers that are structural in nature, where such removal is readily achievable, i.e., easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense.”
So a business can basically claim that providing an accessible entrance isn’t easily accomplished and they are off the hook. Now that I am starting to experience some outings as a wheelchair user, I often joke that one ramp on a 50 acre campus means it’s “accessible”.
In Canada, there is no Canadians with Disabilities Act. According to the government,
“The main federal laws which protect people with disabilities from discrimination include the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act…Section 15 of the Charter makes it clear that every individual in Canada – regardless of race, religion, national or ethnic origin, colour, sex, age or physical or mental disability – is to be considered equal. This means that governments must not discriminate on any of these grounds in its laws or programs.”
It’s quite complicated in Canada, and this 2016 piece by David Lepofsky is an excellent and detailed discussion on the subject. It’s also summarized by national rehabilitation and advocacy charity March of Dimes Canada. Some provinces have taken up disability acts, but not all. Enforcement of the Canadian Charter of Freedoms rights pertaining to disabilities is scarce, if it even really exists. Legally in Canada, removal of barriers is a fight where the onus is placed on the individual. This is quite stupid since independent think tank The Conference Board of Canada reports that the GDP could be increased by up to $16.8 BILLION by improving workplace accessibility in the next 12 years. It could also allow a $10 billion boost in consumer spending. It’s costing this country significant money in the long term by putting off changes that should be a priority.
It’s not like 1 in 7 Canadians over the age of 15 reported a disability that affects their everyday life, or something. *Dripping. With. Sarcasm.*
Closer to home, I recently read an article on accessibility in Calgary by Jolene Rudisuela. I think it was an excellent piece that makes some great points about how to convince businesses to work on their accessibility. Rudisuela points to the spending power of the disabled population as a way to get businesses to listen. That’s a damn fine technique, and I hope more retailers listen as a result of this article.
Since I’m pretty new to the world of using a wheelchair, I’ve been trying to do some more research. There are some pretty awesome travel blogs that specialize in accessible travel. The most popular blogs, and let me say they are popular for a reason, are The Bimblers Travel Blog (UK based), Curbfree with Cory Lee, and John Morris’ Wheelchair Travel., As far as Alberta destinations go, don’t forget about The William Watson Lodge in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in the Kananaskis! I thought it was a great spot, and I can’t wait to book again. There are more details on the lodge in this previous post.
I know I’m just starting to open the page on this, as I’m more able to do longer outings now but I need the wheelchair for anything that isn’t a short walk. I know that I’m probably about to discover a whole other set of barriers for wheelchair users who are just trying to do everyday things. If you think I’m missing some perspective or you want to share your experiences, please please please contact me. I want to learn more, I want to know what you think I should know.
I think that people are just trying to live, and go around doing their everyday things. It’s a pretty shitty feeling to wonder if you will be able to get somewhere because the sidewalk is battling your wheelchair. Or maybe it’s somewhere that advertises barrier-free access, and you can only have part of the experience because it’s barely accessible.
That being said, there were some truly wheelchair friendly spots at the Phoenix Botanical Gardens. I guess this was a roundabout way to end up at a few pictures of my outing, but I warned everyone it was a rant. Enjoy my highly amateur pics of the outing!
Links are in bold text throughout this post, and here are some additional links for information mentioned:
Barrier-Free Canada – a group advocating for a Canadians with Disabilities Act
David Leopfsky – a biography for one of Canada’s most influential disability advocates