Toronto ‘Woefully Unprepared’ to Meet Needs of Aging Population

by Rahul Gupta, May 14, 2019

Accessibility advocates are lauding a provocative awareness campaign launched by the city to highlight the mobility barriers faced by people living with disability. But they want to see the city do more than just bring attention to the issue of accessibility, and actively work to make improvements.

Feeling Left Out? is one part of a series of city-led initiatives intended to foster inclusion as part of the Toronto for All campaign.

For this particular undertaking, the city teamed up with the Centre for Independent Living Toronto (CILT) and the PR agency PUBLIC to fully enclose a former transit shelter at the intersection of King and Bathurst streets, to give a sense of what it’s like to live with disability in the city.

Instead of allowing access, visitors can learn about the campaign, reading posted signs which are in Braille, American Sign Language and English.

“If it’s a small taste (of being excluded) which inspires change, then it’s worth it,” said Wendy Porch, executive director of CILT on the campaign’s intent. “Being left out is an everyday experience for people living with disabilities across a range of fronts: housing, education, civic engagement and social participation generally.”

The StopGap Foundation certainly understands the need for better accessibility. Since 2007, the non-profit has worked with businesses across the country to design and install portable wheelchair ramps to improve access. In some cases, StopGap may assume the costs. Locally, StopGap has installed ramps in establishments located in Queen West, College Street, the Junction, the Ossington strip and other west Toronto neighbourhoods.

StopGap Foundation founder Luke Anderson was full of praise for the campaign. Now he wants the city, specifically its elected officials, to put those words into meaningful action.

“Political capacity changes are needed to create shifts (in attitude),” said Anderson, who founded StopGap after his spinal cord was severed in a mountain biking accident, leaving him dependent on a wheelchair.

“What are the city’s next moves now that they’ve owned awareness?” he said.

StopGap can only legally install portable ramps because city bylaws prevent permanent installation, as the ramps may create sidewalk barriers. Anderson would like to see those laws changed.

“There’s a tension between municipal bylaws and accessibility improvements,” said Anderson.

Ann Bartula, executive director of the Parkdale Village Business Improvement Area, said the association counsels its small business membership on the value of making properties accessible to everyone. The problem is retrofitting a property can costs thousands of dollars.

“$15,000-35,000 (to pay for improvements), for a business owner that could be a yearly salary,” said Bartula.

Even with the support of city grant programs, which can fund up to half of the cost of retrofits, such as enabling wheelchair access, Bartula pointed out there’s still a lot of money which small business owners must account for on their own.

Victor Willis from the Parkdale Activity-Recreation Centre (PARC) estimates upwards of $200,000 has been spent on improvements at its building, at 1499 Queen St, including installing ramps, automatic door openers and Braille signs. The money comes from government granting agencies like the Ontario Trillium Foundation, as well as PARC’s own funds.

PARC has an advantage in that it owns the building, but Willis, the centre’s executive director, admits accessibility is an ongoing struggle.

“The sad part is we always have to go back and fix more stuff,” said Willis. “Our experience is not unlike the rest of Toronto.”

Willis acknowledged the city’s willingness to address accessibility, but said much more needs to be done especially with aging populations.

“When you compare what places like Denmark and Finland have done, and Tokyo which has crossing guards at hospital intersections (to assist mobility-challenged pedestrians), Toronto is woefully underprepared,” said Willis.

Original at

Source link