Try shopping and dining in T.O. if you use a wheelchair or scooter and you'll quickly learn that there's one city for those who walk on their own and another for those who are mobile by other means. And you'll get no help from the province -- there's still no legislation to equalize access. Here's a small sampling of services blocked to thousands of our neighbours. When are shopkeepers going to get it? it should be easy for anyone to buy clothes, food or just a coffee in Toronto. Unfortunately, it's not. For someone like music festival organizer Ann Kennedy, who has spina bifida and uses a scooter, many businesses are simply off limits, as a trip around town reveals. We start our tour at the Body Shop on Queen West. As Kennedy in her vehicle goes through the glass doors, the salesperson seems edgy.
Thump! Kennedy raps into the soap-bar stand because her scooter can't squeeze past a stool. With a horrified look, the rep scampers over, saying, "Here, let me get that." She slides the offending stool over so Kennedy can pass. But that's not the only obstacle. The three steps leading to the next section, a feature the company must consider a cute marketing touch for its high-end products, stop Kennedy. The hemp-enriched and Ayurvedic health products are above and out of her reach -- unless, that is, she asks the rep to get them from the far corner. The rep, feeling some guilt, admits, "This isn't the best-designed store," and awkwardly chuckles. (No kidding.) Kennedy pulls a three-point turn to leave.
At least she got into the Body Shop. The three semicircular concrete steps outside the Bata store at the corner of King and Peter are a barricade. In these situations she usually has to wait until a clerk notices her just to find out if there's a way in.
But there isn't a clerk on the main floor, so she waits outside. But even if she could get in, six more steps come between her and the area where hiking boots, just like the ones she has on, are displayed.
Nothing pisses Kennedy off more than the two side-by-side shops on Spadina south of Queen. The Subway and the Great Canadian Bagel Company both have single 5-inch steps beneath new logo-plastered doors.
"It's ridiculous! Why is there one step?" she fumes. Stopped by a solitary riser. How hard can it be to blast them down and make a ramp?
"Fuck!" she says. "There are, like, 5 inches between me and a Subway sandwich. No one gives a shit."
One person who does is David Lepofsky, chair of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee. He helped create the proposed act, similar to the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act, that would improve accessibility for the 1.5 million disabled Ontarians.
His committee's biggest obstacle has been the Harris government. "In May 95, Harris (in a letter) said they would enact this act in his first term, and he would work with us," Lepofsky says. Since then the premier "has refused to speak with us. He's broken every promise he's made to us."
Lily Weedon, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Citizenship, doesn't want to talk about Harris's past commitments to the ODA committee, but says, "We are working on legislation at this point," although those details can't be revealed. "There was a commitment made on November 23, 1999, that the disability act will be passed by November 23, 2001."
If an act, which may not be like the ODA's proposal, is passed by that time, fixing the 81/2-inch step barring Kennedy from the Pizza Pizza at Bathurst and Queen could be mandatory.
The clerk's answer to why she can't get in? "I dunno," she shrugs, and dashes to the oven to shift some pizzas around. The customer at the counter shakes her head. "That's rude. They should have a ramp."
On the Bathurst side of Honest Ed's, it seems that at least one of the seven locked ground-level doors could be made into an accessible automated door. At the main entrance on Bloor, there's a wheelchair-access sticker and a sign that says, "For assistance please ring buzzer."
Buzz. A while later, a woman inside unlocks the door and pushes it open a short arm's length, as if we've disturbed her. Like, sorry for bugging you.
Getting through the aisles isn't that hard for Kennedy as long as her scooter keeps going straight. When she tries to turn, it gets more difficult. And it's not hard to get trapped in a tight corner. Crash! Her scooter knocks into the chip stand. Then she has to pull a four-point turn and reverse just to get out.
In the east building, a clerk tells her it's OK to use the elevator to get to another floor -- the same one that says "freight elevator only." But Kennedy finds there's no way to get to the west building except for a small section in the basement.
So -- no prescriptions, CDs or videos for Kennedy. No cheesy rugs or towels. No chance. "I have a right to junk," she says. But even if she could buy the stuff, she couldn't get through any of the six cash lines in her scooter.
"What if I bought something?" she wonders before heading out through the narrow manual door.
At the McDonald's and Starbucks on Yonge just south of Bloor it's a similar scene, same attitude. The McDonald's has four steps that need climbing, the Starbucks three. And the clerks inside don't have a clue about how a person in a scooter can get into the store.
Kennedy knows these responses all too well. It's just like the endless ignorant scooter speed jokes she's heard. "Hey, that's a sharp scooter," the waitress shot out with a wink at JJ Muggs, where Kennedy used the washroom.
"This Starbucks is just another place where there's no way of even asking for help -- there's no doorbell, no buzzer. I'll take my money elsewhere, because apparently they don't want it here."
1 BATA -- Out There
WHERE: corner of King and Peter
PROBLEM: entrance -- three semi- cular steps to showroom floor, plus six more to second floor, where most of the clothes and cashiers are.
BATA RESPONDS: "It's our only store that's not handicapped-accessible. I guess if we reconstruct we could (fix it)." Dave Gordon, spokesperson
WHERE: Yonge south of Bloor
PROBLEM: three concrete steps
STARBUCKS RESPONDS: "It's a historical building and it's not at street level." Karen Koonings, spokesperson (Heritage Preservation Services would be asked to comment on any building permit for a designated building.)
WHERE: Bathurst and Bloor
PROBLEM: accessibility via main Bloor entrance if one buzzes. Narrow aisles. Freight elevator only goes to basement and the second floor of the east wing.
HONEST ED'S RESPONDS: "The east wing is 100-per-cent accessible. The west has some limitations. Our staff will offer whatever assistance we can." Russell Lazar, manager, Honest Ed's
4THE GREAT CANADIAN BAGEL COMPANY
WHERE: Spadina, south of Queen
PROBLEM: one small step (less than 5 inches) plus a single narrow door
GCBC RESPONDS: "I'd have to talk to the landlord (before renovating)." Ed Kwiatkowski, director of operations
WHERE: Bathurst and Queen
PROBLEM: huge single concrete step
PIZZA PIZZA RESPONDS: no response
McDONALD'S (Not pictured) WHERE: Yonge south of Bloor PROBLEM: four concrete steps McDONALD'S RESPONDS: no response