Friday, March 1, 2013



Thanks to too many years of football, I know how to fall. Which isn't much help decades later when the reflexes mellow.
That is me who you see picking his way carefully down the sidewalk or the subway steps. To slow myself down, I repeat as a mantra that 50% of pensioners die within a year of having a bad fall.
I didn't do the math, I just accept that falling isn't a great idea in the age when you visit more hospitals than bars, when the question is whether you're a cranky old fart or just cranky.
Too many times I've risked serious injury because of stupid rushing. Like the time I was galloping across the uneven surface outside SkyDome (I use the best name) to be there for the first pitch when I fell flat. My face escaped, but I broke my right knee cap, the capella, and discovered that they don't do anything for that. I found for six months or so it hurt when I knelt, and it's surprising how often you kneel for other reasons than just...well you know...prayer. (What a dirty mind. You thought I was talking about sex.)
After three months in four hospitals in 2011, I had to learn how to walk again, even to stand, and that certainly added a rolling sailor's gait when I finally got mobile.
After hospital hell, I became very, very, very careful about falling. I've never forgotten my immersion in the disabled world, from that personal experience with careless obstacles to what I've heard as a founding director of the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame.
There are so many broken sidewalks, the roads, despite the corrugated surfaces and volcano-cone potholes, often are safer for pedestrians, that is if you don't mind the cars.
Last summer at the cottage, in a stupid incident, I was pulling a paddle boat to the river using an old rope. Yep, the line broke. I fell face down on some rocks with my face in two feet of water. Since I was just a few inches beside the dock edge, I didn't move immediately, first thanking God that I hadn't hit my temple on the side of the dock, which would have drowned me if it didn't kill me first, then wondering what I had broken.
My right leg was a bloody and bruised mess and ached for months almost as much as my hip. But I survived, with an awful memory that I had almost killed myself through carelessness because I didn't do the simple chore of always checking a rope before you pull on it.
The strange snow/ice/rain that has laid waste to Toronto streets for weeks has turned an ordinary walk into a obstacle course. I try to remember to carry a hiking pole but it's often me you see teetering on the mush and mounds alongside Etobicoke streets.
I mailed a letter the other day at the local mailbox that was in a depression filled with water and surrounded by decaying ice. The problem is that after I fell, and hurt only my dignity, I couldn't get up as I skidded around in the basin.
Then there I was picking my way carefully down the new steps into the Queen's Park subway station at the southeast corner of University and College. I looked over each step as carefully as I look at women. At the bottom, I stepped off confidently only to find I was still one step up. I fell to my knees and really bloodied and bruised them. A Good Samaritan asked if he could help. I said no, thanked him, but then spluttered about the steps. He said, oh no, it was you. And he immediately became the Bad Samaritan.
You would have thought that the TTC would have used the very latest techniques in rebuilding stairs after the very long delay and, for  some stupid reason, eliminating the escalator feeding up to one of the largest hospitals in the country.
I have surveyed friends and found that those wearing bifocals or even trifocals - as I do - have a great deal of trouble with TTC stairs although the commission, to its credit, has worked at colour schemes to make the edges to steps stand out and not just be a grey blur..
Yet I find at some stations that the steps blend with the landing or platform. If there was an edge of bright yellow or red at the edge of the steps, particularly the top and last ones, it would help. And the broken tiles are no help. One idea would be to have the same yellow tile on the bottom step as the TTC now use at the edge of subway platforms.
The city is testing different tiled surfaces at the intersection of Victoria and Shuter near St. Michael's Hospital. The idea, they say, is to take the most visible coloured tiles and make curbside edges more recognizable to the blind and visually impaired. Now I am neither, thank heavens, but I can assure you that there are many out there beside me who can be betrayed by their glasses as to the next step.
And when you throw in mashed curbs and rumpled potholes, and wet floors or even puddles in subway stations, only the eye of an eagle can save you as you make your way around the street furniture, Then  in shopping areas there are always merchants who put their awnings so low, they must think this is a city of dwarfs.
The city has worked, as the TTC has, to make it easier for the disabled, old and mothers with those tanks of strollers to use, for example, crosswalks and intersections.  But I have two sore knees to sort of support me when I say more work has to be done.

I sent an email to the CEO of the TTC about this early in the evening and received a reply within two hours. Impressive! And 10 days later, before the scabs on my knees had healed, Andy Byford emailed me with the officials' position on my suggestions and my blog. The memo follows:

TTC’s Design Standard for new construction requires stair treads to have two contrasting colours of granite tile, to demarcate the tread edges and the landing edge. Cumberland Exit at Bay Station has this type of stairway design.
Ontario’s Building Code requires public stairs to have either a colour contrast or a distinctive pattern to demarcate the tread edges and the landing edge. TTC’s Design Standard for stairway handrails has horizontal extensions. For new construction, these extensions incorporate a yellow sleeve with black edges to signal the top and bottom of a stairway . This detail was specifically developed by the TTC and CNIB to allow persons with low vision to identify stairway limits.  
The use of the yellow textured tiles has been reserved for platform edges.  In this way both the tactile message and the yellow colour at floor level are associated with the hazard of the platform edge, in order to aid persons who are blind or who have limited vision.
In order to achieve the most slip resistance possible for stair treads, painted finishes are not recommended.n In summary, my staff, guided by the CNIB, do not recommend incorporating a yellow or red outline on the stairs, or adding platform edge tiles to the bottom of stairways.   By working with the CNIB, the TTC has developed a yellow and black handrail extension that signals the limits of stairways for persons with limited vision.

My response to a speedy and honourable message:

I have never noticed the yellow warning sleeve on handrails because I am too busy peering down. I already know I have reached the bottom or one step up; I just can't distinguish with trifocals which.
I still think using the same yellowed textured tile on the bottom step that is now reserved for platform edges would be used for many.
 I also am still annoyed that an escalator was removed feeding up to one of the largest hospitals in the country, TGH, and the other major hospitals.
 However I am impressed with the speed of the reply to my complaint and the proof that the commission is aware of the concern and doing its best with contrasting elements.

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