Why Increase Infrastructure When There is Nowhere to Go?

I just finished reading through all the accessibility reports for the City of Kingston, from 2003 to the present and, as I did so, I tried to figure out why I am so frustrated. To me, it feels like I am losing accessibility, not gaining it.

It took me awhile to clue in, but then it hit me. There is lots of work being done to build infrastructure, but the accessibility of stores and services has gone down, the social and recreational programs are gone, and the accessible taxi's are gone. I no longer can take part in many things locally because the city has been approving major renovations and site plans for public buildings, even though they lack in accessibility. The city says they can't prevent it by law.

It now leaves me wondering what is the point of Kingston building better sidewalks and trying to improve access to public transportation, if there is nowhere for wheelchair users to go?

Even the number of opportunities to take part in a social or recreational activity has gone down.

If you are a senior, youth, or you have a specific type of disability for which there are programs, you are okay. But if your disability is one that doesn’t fit their mould, then you have nothing.

When I first started using a wheelchair there were lots of things to take part in. Why did it exist then and not now? Well, I was still caught up in the psychiatric system; the very one that gave me so much medication that it caused permanent nerve damage to my legs and I had to start using a wheelchair. The psychiatric system has social and recreational programs, programs for job skills development, and even opportunities to volunteer.

However, about 5 years after I started using the wheelchair, I managed to fight my way off all the heavy medications that I had been taking since the age of 10, and it was then, that a miracle happened. All the symptoms of a mental illness vanished. My brain woke up and I became enthusiastic about the idea of going to work. I signed up for the ODSP Employment Supports Program, they ordered some psychological and capacity assessment testing, and I passed it all with flying colours. The results showed no sign of a bipolar disorder or personality disorder. It also have a healthy adaptive approach to dealing with chronic pain.

I was so ecstatic that I shared the results with everyone. Big Mistake. When I shared the good news, my mental health supports were immediately cut off. The worker actually stood up from my couch when she was there for a home visit and said, no mental illness, no service. She then left the room. That was in 2004.

I was thrilled to finally be out of ‘the system’, but then I realized how much I would lose. I had no home supports to help me with the limitations of the wheelchair because I was never given rehab, and because I could get dressed and bathed independently, I couldn’t qualify for a homemaker or attendant care services. The mental health services had been helping me with some things like shopping, and doing some of the basic tasks of daily living, but I lost this support when the service was cut off. I also found I could no longer take part in their social, recreational, and vocational training activities. I was suddenly left completely and totally alone with no help to even compensate for the wheelchair and the number of barriers that exist in my community.

At one point, Independent Living offered peer support, had a consumer driven newsletter, and had other brain-stimulating and exciting things to do, but due to funding cutbacks, the programs I was interested in, were stopped.

Another group, the Kingston Kestrels, a sports club for the disabled, was also discontinued due to funding cutbacks and the difficulty the participants had in getting the Access Bus.

For places to shop, we used to have wheelchair accessible shopping Downtown, in the Kingston Centre, the Frontenac Mall, and the Cataraqui Towne Centre. Now the Kingston Centre and Frontenac Mall are gone, as are the 3 department stores and other shopping options and welcoming restaurants that used to exist downtown.

Even the grocery store that used to exist around the corner from me until about 2 years ago, is gone.

This wouldn’t be so bad, I suppose, if the grocery stores still offered a shop and deliver service, but even that is gone. Meals on Wheels will only deliver to those who can be home for several hours around noon to receive it, the food bank and Good Food Box will only give food to those who can get to them to pick it up, and even some medical suppliers and drug stores, will no longer deliver for free.

I understand the need to charge for delivery, but when your only source of income is ODSP and you can’t get a job, then you can’t afford to pay the $5 delivery charge. Besides, who wants to stay home for half a day, or a full day (depending on the delivery service) to receive it? My apartment building does not have a superintendent so if I go out, it is impossible to receive a delivery. This was especially challenging when I was working full-time for 18 months.

What remains now, are a few recreational activities that can be accessed by adults who use wheelchairs such as Able Sail, the dinner club, Revved Up, and programs offered by the CPA (Canadian Paraplegic Association). The catch is, if you can't get there on the Access Bus because there is a waiting list, or you can't afford to pay for it because your only source of income is ODSP, then you have no choice but to do without.

If one wants to watch a movie and experience its full benefit, then one cannot go to the Cineplex theatre. Wheelchair users must sit so close to the screen that they can't see it, or they get a sensory overload from sitting too close, and some have to leave because it makes them feel sick.

At the Capital Theatre one must sit where the Emergency Light must be always on. This means it is harder to see the screen.

The Screening Room, which offers some marvellous upstart movies at an affordable price, is not wheelchair accessible.

To exercise at the 2 City-owned properties; the Invista Centre and Artillery Park, one must be able to exercise fully on their own, and they cannot use a lot of the equipment. Once more, there is no opportunity to participate in a group exercise program because they are unwilling to modify some of the inclusive ones, and the senior programs are too mundane.

If one wants to swim, then the YMCA is the place to go for a swimming pool. It is not the place to go if one wants to get showered and dressed independently and without help later on. The female change rooms are not accessible, the family change room is partially accessible, but has no privacy for the shower, and the new ‘disabled’ change room is useless for an adult who uses a wheelchair and has to change on their own.

My question is, why would the YMCA add a big huge extension and make both pools wheelchair accessible, but then not think to build an accessible change room from scratch into the new addition that was built about 4 years ago? It doesn’t make sense.

Moving on, look at the cost of Goodlife Fitness, Mademoiselle, and a few other places. Then look at their level of access. There are no discounts for one who can only use a fraction of what they have to offer.

For sports and recreation we have Able Sail and Sledge Hockey. I’m a female who is too old to play sledge hockey and Able Sail costs too much money for one whose sole source of income is ODSP.

There is no funding for education and, if you try to get work or a volunteer job, you are either expected to be “equal” (do the same tasks as the other employees including lifting) or able to afford to pay for the Access Bus to give your skills away.

A few places will reimburse volunteers for parking, but they will not give the same amount to those who went there by bus.

That’s why, when the City of Kingston offered the Municipal Recreation and Transportation Subsidy, I got really mad. With no fully accessible and inclusive location to exercise at, and the expectation that I pay for transit to do a volunteer job, it infuriated me that the City did not think of the Access Bus users when they created this subsidy.

Considering there is a Human Rights Code and the AODA (Accessibility for Ontarian's With Disabilities Act) was designed to ensure that all Ontarian's will have the right to access all goods and services in Ontario, one has to wonder why this travesty is allowed to exist?

To confirm the absence of choice and the reason why I am beefing, I challenge you to go to: http://kingston.cioc.ca/ and, in the search bar type “Disability”

Please read my other Blogs:
Transit: http://wheelchairdemon-transit.blogspot.com
Health: http://wheelchairdemon-health.blogspot.com

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