The Braze team discovered a whole new meaning to the saying “Life is a journey, not a destination” on an outing to demo our anti-collision technology. For the trip back, decided to take the TTC to avoid the expense of taking a wheelchair cab (more on that later). What was supposed to take 36 minutes (according to Google maps) turned into a transit nightmare that dragged on for more than two hours!!
It started out as a fine day, but as rain started falling we quickly shed our coats to protect our chair’s exposed electronics. Things went downhill from there…
As the four of us got to the closest subway station, we looked around for a second entrance that did not involve going up a flight of stairs. We had some hope of finding one across the street, since an overhead tunnel seemed to lead to a parking structure with an elevator. False hope! As opposed to what we were told, this station wasn’t – and had never been – accessible.
We immediately turned to our phones to find alternative routes. This turned out to be tricky, since Google maps kept telling us to take the subway where we were, since it didn’t consider our accessibility predicament. Thankfully, a kind policeman realized we were struggling and told us which buses to take to reach an accessible TTC subway station.
When the first bus came, Pooja had the honour of driving the chair into the bus and parking into the spot reserved for wheelchairs, not without bumping into different parts of the bus. Unfamiliar as we were with the anchoring system, we didn’t figure out right away how to pull the retractable hooks out (especially since the first one we tried turned out to be broken). The sign with paragraph upon paragraph of instructions (see picture below) was of no help at all! The worst part was that the driver pulled away from the curb without even checking that the chair was anchored down – it wasn’t. Getting off the bus was just as eventful as getting on since the space immediately in front of the platform was blocked by a mailbox.
Two buses and a good 45 minutes later, we arrived at the subway station only to find out that the only elevator was broken down. This time, a genuinely apologetic TTC employee offered us an alternate route to another accessible station and even called ahead to check that those elevators were working.
We finally reached an accessible station after taking three different buses – Pooja’s skills at getting on/off the bus had already improved! At this station, we noticed a few more accessibility gaps, like the lack of signage near the elevator, which led us to the wrong side of the platform, as if we hadn’t wasted enough time already.
A full 2 hours and 15 minutes after our departure, four times Google’s estimated trip duration, we finally arrived back at the office with our patience tested and a banged up prototype. It became apparent, even before the end of the trip, that this experience was about much more than just making it back to the office. It became one small piece of my journey to be more aware of the accessibility challenges that powered wheelchair drivers and their caregivers can face every single day, even if I wasn’t the one sitting in the wheelchair.Read More
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 too 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.Read More
“Know thy user” is a mantra well-known to anyone in the field of product development. As a founder of a new start-up that develops accessible technologies for independent mobility, and as someone who has never experienced a mobility impairment except for the occasional and minor knee injuries, I realised that I needed to better understand the accessibility challenges of my users before I attempted to come up with solutions. I figured a good way to do this was to experience first-hand what it is like to drive around the Greater Toronto Area in a wheelchair.
In our blog series called “Wheeling around the GTA”, my team members and I share our various trips within the GTA – the good, the bad, and the ugly. As all of my team members would agree, we noticed several issues (some related to the environment, and others related to mindsets and attitudes) that we perhaps would never have recognized if it wasn’t for our (brief) lived experiences in wheeling around.
We hope that this blog brings some of these issues to the forefront for those who are unaware of them, in addition to providing a public platform where others can share their own accessibility challenges, or those of their loved ones. If you have a story to share, please contact us and write for our blog!Read More