By Graham Browning
The morning of the Accessibility Innovation Showcase, I was tasked with transporting our demo wheelchair from UofT’s Rehabilitation Sciences Building, at 500 University Avenue, to the Metro Toronto Convention Center. The plan of action was straightforward but daunting, made worse by my inexperience at operating a motorized wheelchair (I’d never driven one before!). After leaving the lab and doing some practice driving in the hallway to boost my confidence, I was off!
Immediately upon entering the elevator, I realized how difficult it was to reach the buttons. I knew that if I drove into trouble anywhere on my trip, I could stand up and try to sort out my problem, but I resolved at this point to make the entire journey without cheating. After some negotiating, I was able to reach the buttons and head to ground level. The ramp at the back of the building was easily navigated, even while covered in scaffolding, and I set off up the street. The first major concession I had to make on my trip was driving all the way to Queen’s Park Station (an extra 450m) because St. Patrick Station is not accessible. After arriving at Queen’s Park, I purchased my token and headed down to the platform.
I especially liked the TTC elevators for having both front and back doors so I could drive straight through instead of trying to turn around or back out (something I am really bad at). Once on the platform, I waited for the train, slightly anxious that I wouldn’t be lined up with a door in time to board, but was able to catch the first train that came through. I parked as close as I could to the priority seating, although the passengers sitting in the fold-up seats did not seem interested in moving for me. I darted off the train at Union and made my way to the elevators. Exiting Union Station proved to be the most difficult part of the trip. Due to ongoing construction, some routes are closed and others inaccessible, so I asked for directions several times. I was able to navigate into the Skywalk without assistance, save for one set of doors with no power opener (opened for me by a GO passenger). The trip down to the hall of the MTCC for the showcase went smoothly, save for a minor mishap backing out of an elevator.
Overall, I was impressed by how easy the trip was. The only thing that took a significant amount of extra time was driving to a further subway station. I also developed a new appreciation for the importance of good elevator design. Ironically, driving in elevators were some of the most stressful parts of the trip.
This trip made me realize that applying the “accessible” label, and including the bare minimum of accessibility features isn’t good enough; the features really need to be user friendly. Elevators that are to small, gaps between trains and platforms, and accessible stations scattered far apart are all examples of areas that could be improved upon given interest and investment.