Operation: Stairbomb London


Caution tape with a sign attached reading "Sorry, no access. Stairs Out of Order"
Let's shut'um all down!

To celebrate the 1-year anniversary of Cripz: A Webcomic going online, we’re asking everyone to grab their caution tape and shut down as many stairways as possible.

What is Stairbombing?
Stairbombing was invented to help people understand (and empathize) with why accessibility is important, by “closing down” stairways with caution tape and a snarky “Out of Service” sign commenting on how annoying it must be to not be able to access a place they really want to go.

Why are we stairbombing?
Because, quite frankly, we’re tired of not being able to go anywhere! One of the biggest challenges for someone with a physical disability is the lack of accessible public spaces. From restaurants to schools, London is woefully inaccessible. The result is that people with disabilities are one of the most marginalized populations in our community simply because they can’t go to the same places as everyone else.

How can you help?

  1. Check out the Facebook event here.
  2. Invite all of your friends to the event and give us a few shout-outs on your social media (facebook, twitter, friendster, icq, etc)!
  3. Write a blog about the event and why you feel accessibility is important.
  4. Form a team of friends, bring a camera and meet us at the band shell in Victoria Park at 7pm on the 30th! We’ll provide you with all the supplies you need.
  5. Head out into that big bold world and shut down as many stairs as possible!

If we all work together, we can shut down a critical mass of stairs and show the people of London just how inaccessible this city is!

How to Get Rich Quick

Side profile of a TTC Wheeltrans bus

A recent post by Ryan over at Driving Off the Beaten Path about his experience on Para-transpo in Ottawa inspired me to repost an old article I wrote about Paratransit here in London. Make sure to check out Driving Off the Beaten Path blog!

—Originally posted April 4, 2009–

London Knights logoFor as long as I can remember, hockey has been a big part of my life. Some of my earliest memories are of playing mini-sticks with my Dad and sister in the living room, laughing and having fun while pretending to be Grant Fuhr. I was so hockey obsessed that I swore up and down throughout grade school that one day I would grow up to be the first disabled NHL goaltender. Although a lofty goal, my parents were supportive, hoping a more feasible career would catch my eye and steer me down a more realistic path.

Although eventually moving on, hanging up my pads and realizing, albeit with a deep sigh, that the Maple Leafs won’t likely offer me an entry-level contract, I still spent a vast majority of my time watching, playing, talking or thinking hockey. Although the Leafs will get another extended summer break this year, hockey fever has taken hold in around these parts as the London Knights, the local OHL team, are burning it up in the early stages of the playoffs.

Today, tickets for the 3rd Round of the playoffs finally came on sale and I woke up early to make sure I wouldn’t miss out. Because I need wheelchair accessible seats, the Knights require my tickets be purchased over the phone rather than online. Presumably this is to ensure people with disabilities are getting the seats, although there’s no validation process to ensure you actually need wheelchair access when buying the tickets. Anyway, I began dialling my cellphone as quickly as possible, hanging up the second I heard the busy signal and quickly dialling again. I figured the line would be pretty busy, reminiscent of my repeated dialings to get Leaf tickets to watch Mats Sundins’ return to Toronto earlier in the year. I was amazed at how fast I could switch between dialling, hanging up and dialling again–it was as though I had practiced the manoeuvre many times before. As the clock pushed past 30 minutes with still no luck, I was beginning to get frustrated and muttered under my breath, “Jeez, this is almost as bad as Paratransit.” That’s when I realized why I was so fast at dialling: it’s the exact same process used when attempting to book a ride on Paratransit.

Paratransit, run by the London Transit Commission (LTC), is a specialized door-to-door transportation service dedicated to individuals with disabilities, not unlike the Wheeltrans system in Toronto or Paratranspo system in Ottawa. Paratransit was created as a stop-gap solution to augment the lack of accessible bus routes in London while servicing individuals who aren’t able to wait in the cold for busses or navigate their way to the bus stops because City Council cancelled snow removal for sidewalks in the winter several years ago. In principle, the service is a good idea and an absolute necessity. The problem is that in practice this service is essentially unusable.

One of the biggest problems facing Paratransit is the booking system. In order to get a ride on Paratransit, you must call in at 7am, three days before you wish to leave your home: no earlier and no later. Unfortunately, the service does not have any sizable queue system, meaning that clients are constantly met with the same busy-signal that greeted me in my attempt to get Knights tickets. This means that not only must we dial in, over and over again, hoping desperately to get through, but which calls actually do get through is completely arbitrary, based on whether or not you happen to dial when the queue opens rather than on a first come, first serve basis. While this may not seem like a big problem, much like Leafs tickets, if you don’t get through in the first 40 minutes you are likely out of luck–all the rides for the day have been booked. For those lucky few who do manage to get through, there is no guarantee they will get a ride either. The rides are booked extremely quickly, often requiring you to settle for a pick-up time several hours before your appointment. Finally, just because you have a booking does not mean the ride will even show up, as rides are consistently 30 minutes late and, in my experience, are just as likely to not show up at all.

While there are many explanations as to why the Paratransit program is failing, like lack of funds, something that astonishes me is that the word coming from the LTC is that the system works well considering the resources they have available. When asked if there are any problems, the answer most often touted by the LTC representatives is that aside from buying more busses, there is little they can do to improve the system.

In the end, I did manage to get tickets to see the Knights play next round. Even though it took over 40 minutes to finally get through, I now have better success buying Knights tickets than I do getting a ride on Paratransit. When it’s easier to get playoff tickets for a hockey game in Canada than it is to get a ride on a daily basis for people with disabilities in London, something is terribly wrong.

By implementing a fair booking system through an automated queue system or first-come, first-serve online booking, Paratransit could immediately solve one of the most frustrating problems plaguing the system without a huge expenditure of resources, financial or otherwise.

If Paratransit rides continue to be so difficult to get, maybe I should take a lesson from those guys out front the Air Canada Centre and start scalping rides to the highest bidder. Anyone need a ride? I’ve got the hottest, most exclusive ticket in town…and a whopper of a student loan that needs to be paid!

“And…this is your…aid?”

Cartoon nurse standing in front of red cross with "HELP" written above her head

Rewind to December 2009. Like most of North America, Clara and I decided to go to a local movie theatre and check out that little art-house picture, Avatar. After the movie, as we were about to brave the cold Canadian winter, I realized I had forgotten my gloves and scarf in the theatre. Being the wonderful girlfriend that she is, Clara headed upstairs to the box office to gather my things. As she returned with my acutrama, a distraught older man and his wife approached, very concerned that I had left my things behind. Apparently they noticed I had left my things on their way out and the gentleman seemed very concerned about my ability to survive without them. After assuring him that we had the glove and scarf and everything would be fine, he then proceeded to point at Clara and in a half-joking manner started saying it was her responsibility to remember these things, seeing as though she was my “aid” and all. I can’t begin to explain how angry this made me, as insignificant as it might seem. If a guy in a wheelchair is out with a girl, must she be his aid? Is it so unbelievable that I would have a girlfriend? There were a million angry things I wanted to say to the man, but in the ended I didn’t say anything (which, hindsight made me even angrier afterwards) because I knew I wasn’t justified to be as upset as I was about the whole thing and there was no value in yelling and screaming.¬†Perhaps what really got my goat was that this wasn’t the first time someone has assumed Clara was my aid…and probably won’t be the last. Having said that, this particular “blame” experience was a bit unique: normally, people who presume Clara is my aid attempt to use her as a means of communicating to me.

This is an experience anyone with an attendant or translator can probably relate to–people often assume that because I have a personal support worker, I must not be able to speak for myself. The problem of dealing with people with disabilities and their aids is dealt with in a recent blog posted by Choose Ability Accomodation’s Blog, where someone who works within the disabled industry even had a tough time comprehending the dynamic of individual with disability and support worker communication. As you can see, even those “in the know” don’t always know how to navigate these situations.

Without overly simplifying or banging the logic drum a bit too hard, the obvious solution to these situations is to always, always, always speak to the person and not to the support worker/translator. It may not seem like a big deal, but I can say from first-hand experience there is nothing more humiliating then having a waiter ask your support worker what you want to eat.