Thursday, April 23, 2015



So what is it really like in the real world when you have a disabled parking pass, transportation and transit companies promise to help 100% with accessibility issues, and ramps and special seating are  familiar parts of daily life?
It is still a mixed blessing. You can go from smiling thanks for the help from strangers and even governments to cursing anger with the latest stupid barrier or inept stranger.
My wife has trouble walking. Her world is one of walkers, canes and a light foldable version of a wheelchair called a transporter chair. Her aids are God-sends. Without them we couldn't travel a block.
I am an awkward steward of my wife's transportation because I had a taste of the problem.
 Three years ago after three months in four hospitals I couldn't stand or walk. I have climbed out of that pit but it has left me with a temper still swollen from outrages like the heavy doors in places like Roy Thomson Hall which are difficult to move while also helping Mary.
The days when I strolled for miles, even 32.8 miles in one charity walk, are an ancient memory. But I can walk some distance, with pauses, so I'm not complaining.
The latest mountain for us to climb was a visit to my son John Henry in California. He and my son Mark assured me that Air Canada when notified in advance would help me with Mary in her transporter chair which you can buy for around $250. Mary can use it as a walker or I can push her in it even though floors tend to sag and wander and even descend into ruts and mini potholes in terminals, subway stations and especially city sidewalks.
There was a little confusion with Air Canada but it generally worked well.  A helper pushed Mary to the side of the plane - she could handle the walk to the seat - and the chair was stowed underneath and produced quickly in Los Angeles minus one part which was retrieved. There was no one at LAX to help so I had to push Mary through construction to the luggage carousel where my son and his Marie, the artist and jewellery designer, came to my rescue.
The return trip went better because there was an Air Canada helper to push Mary the extraordinary distance between the gate and customs.
There we sat waiting in a straggle of wheelchairs at a special desk which wasn't that special in processing. After about 30 minutes of waiting, and wondering whether my son Brett would now not connect for the trip home, we reached the customs official while I contemplated complaining.
He studied my slip, asked if I was the writer, said Downing was a nice name, and waved us through. (His name was Persaud.) A soft answer, especially praise, always turns away wrath, so I would judge the trip there and back to be a great success despite that hiccup in Los Angeles.
It would have been far easier for John Henry if I had flown into John Wayne Airport south of L.A. so he wouldn't have to drive into L.A. with its terrible traffic (still better than in Toronto) but that would have meant changing at O'Hare. The transporter chair is a wonderful help but you still have to husband your energy and running around that giant Chicago airport is to be avoided if possible.
A week later I was going to take Mary via that chair to a luncheon for the Canadian Helen Keller Centre at the Royal York. Finally I went alone. Thank heavens! I worked near Union Station for 50 years but despite my intimate knowledge I got lost three times in the construction maze in and outside the station. It has been an aggravating disgrace for far too long. It is like a Devil's project designed to show off how best to screw up a major downtown.
The TTC to its credit has personnel wandering around giving directions inside Union Station.  I had to interrupt three of them gossiping with each other to get confused directions. At one point I had to be rescued by a TTC employee who took mercy on me and said I was right to be grousing.
The experiences of the last months of trying to take Mary around via the TTC and an international airline - because our damned traffic makes driving downtown a gauntlet of dangers and costly parking - have proven to me again that despite the good progress we have made in helping the movements of those who because of age or disability just can't handle the stairs and slopes and stupid heavy public doors, there is room for improvement.
After all, for the disabled, it is a daily struggle. Something I wish that tall fat bottle blonde of around 30 would have remembered when she sprawled with her parcels over two of the subway seats that are supposed to be used by those who find it difficult to stand and clutch a pole.
I wish I had taken her picture because she could be symbolic of those who really don't notice or give a damn whether some of those around them are coping with the trip.
Fortunately, I can say in my regular report card about disability mobility that most of us are doing much better. I even have praise for Air Canada, which astounds even me.
Of course that extends only to its wheelchair assistance. Service and conditions inside its planes would be considered satisfactory only by people who could sleep in a coffin and figure a jail cell is a fine living room.

No comments: