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The official website of Paul Franklin: a father, veteran, activist, motivational speaker, and proud Canadian.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Worst cities in Canada for Disabled travellers.

I have travelled throughout Canada, the UK, Australia and the United States both in my job with the Canadian Forces and with my charity.  As my travels have taken to three continents I'd like to share some of my thoughts on travelling as a disabled person.

Canada as a new and modern country has great access to hotels, shops and transportation.  That being said there are a few cities that need help.

1. Montreal
As far as cities go the downtown core of Montreal is quite distressing as a disabled person.  The sidewalks are in very poor shape (they were cleaned up for the 1976 Olympics and haven't been fixed since then) and the notorious traffic is a hazard even for the most able of pedestrians.  The metro is all but inaccessible but the pubs on St Catherine's are generally easy to get into. The underground is a complex path of ramps and confusion although it is better than attaching a plow on the front of your chair and attempting the streets in winter.

2. Halifax
I don't have many bad things to say about Halifax as a city that defiantly tries to do its best with accessibility.  Ramps to stores, handicap access in pubs and restaurants is all generally good.  The hard part is that its built on a hill and if you start your day at the citadel by mid day you will find yourself in the properties. Hills are the killer of dudes in wheelchairs or with fake legs.  All this being said there are some great pubs at the waterfront and its something that maybe St. Johns could do..... pubs at the waterfront as when you leave George Street you tend to roll downhill.

3. Quebec City
Old city and the lower city all have great access to all the great areas of this tourist destination (they cater to the cruise ship crowd which is demanding in accessibility issues).  The same comment about Halifax is even worse for Quebec City in that its built on a steep hill.  Nothing you can do about it but steer downhill when you have a pint or two.  In Quebec at least they have the Funicular which is free for wheelchair dudes and puts you back at the top of the hill.  Kind of like a ski hill.  The downtown and the rest of Quebec City all have poor access to businesses and other areas and again the traffic is a concern when you sit at below a drivers eye line.

4. Ottawa
You would think that as the nations capital they would be the prime example of accessibility.  This is unfortunately not true.  From some of the slowest elevators in existence to bathrooms located invariably in basements the challenges of having fun and travelling in Ottawa is tough.  A point of contention is that any new restaurant or shop should have a ramp to access the store.  Generally in the market area the store fronts are only one or two steps which for dudes with legs is easy but for others it can be a challenge.  As the population ages it would behove the city to ensure that any new construction or renovation falls under accessibility guidelines.  Although this is a city that has talked of light rail for the last 20 years so my expectations are low.

5. Toronto
The downtown area is fairly new and one would expect that accessibility in this world class city would be of a top concern.  Many business towers are either inaccessible or they place the ramps on the backsides in alleys, bathrooms in basements, curbs that are too high to roll over or climb up.  I always stay downtown and it is always frustrating trying to find a restaurant or pub that I can either get in or have to plan at least one bathroom break away. The TTC is generally accessible except for the trolleys but there is always a bus or subway station close by so no worries.

6. Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Victoria
Why did I group all these Western cities together is there some sort of bias?
The real reason is that they are flat.

Most of these cities are new and have a good infrastructure so curbs are easy to use, hotels, restaurants, pubs are easy to get into and the shopping is accessible.  All this even though in places like Vancouver and Victoria there are many old stores and they have made the decision to allow disabled people the ability to shop and enjoy which of course adds to their bottom line.

As the population ages the cities at the top of the list are going to have to make decisions about how they are going to incorporate accessibility guidelines into their new builds and their renovations.  Places like St. Johns, Halifax and Quebec City are examples of at least trying in a hard environment that is not forgiving to disabled people.  Hills are the fact of life.  That being said any new buildings or renovations should allow access.  Disabled people are money earners, pensioners, retired, and students and if companies of the future want to have a profitable business it will benefit them to open their doors, have ramps and accessible bathrooms.  It only makes common sense.

Paul Franklin
MCpl (ret)
Fundraising Chair
Franklin Fund - Amputee Coalition of Canada

Sophia Anderson a close friend of mine thought I should mention a few more points and I have to totally agree with her.

"Sophie Anderson 
It's a great start Paul! But, there's definitely a lot more to be said about accessibility, which is brutal in Grande Prairie - from either wheelchair or a parent with a stroller ... narrow doorways, iinability to manoever in an entrance or public washroom, wheelchair access doors not turned on or the buttons are in a very inappropriate location, stores with stock all over the floor so aisles are so narrow you can't actually get through, ... to lack of snow and ice removal on sidewalks and ramps to stores (one store piled all the snow from the ramp at the base of the ramp, so you couldn't access it from the parking lot!). We have so much further to go ..."

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