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Access denied

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A brief glimpse into the frustrations felt by those using wheelchairs to get around Metro Vancouver has Jody Vance seeing red.

Between the pandemic, back-to-school, a parent in long-term care, and a snap election, my household had more than enough stress. But in the last few weeks our family, has seen just how broken our accessibility support system is here in BC.

Thanks to the shortcomings of our completely underfunded and under- supported system, getting my wheelchair-bound Dad to and from an urgent specialist appointment was riddled with anxiety.

Being a new user of this system, I feel compelled to add my voice to amplify what a huge swath of our society have had to normalize.

Pass the bullhorn, this may get loud.

Let’s begin with the irony. This is the actual city where the Man in Motion World Tour ended in May 1987 — Vancouver —home to the Rick Hansen Foundation World Headquarters. You’d think it would be pretty easy to ask the RHF to point exactly where and how to address the absolute nightmare that is getting around Metro Vancouver with a wheelchair.

HandyDART or Accessible Taxi? It’s a shot in the dark booking what might be a complete miss for $3.00, or a very expensive ride that basically sees the passenger put in the trunk. The prior is unreliable, the latter good in theory, but in reality rather degrading.

The healthcare workers, and taxi frontliners involved in this tale are kind, hardworking, and dedicated; there must be a way to arm them with what they need. But it’s unfair to expect cab drivers to become caregivers for the most vulnerable.

If more elected officials had physical disabilities it is my bet that BC’s accessibility systems would be far better funded, and by far better I mean 1000 x’s better. It is that bad. In fact, I challenge policy makers and politicians to commit to travelling only by wheelchair, everywhere, for a week — and then debrief.

In our experience, the back and forth to appointments, surgery and follow-up, we found incredible kindness. The people running things are juggling razor blades in their attempt do all they can, with the little they have, trying to be all things to all people in need.

Fixing it is the right thing to do, but if that’s not enough, keep in mind: we are all TABs.

What’s a TAB?

I had a chance for a pre-interview chat off air with Brad McCannell, Rick Hansen Foundation VP of Access and Inclusion.

“Everyone is a T.A.B, Jody”, he said, “temporarily able bodied.”

It was a major ah-ha moment, looking across at Brad in his wheelchair. Eventually we will all experience accessibility shortfalls — and it will hurt.

In the past few weeks, I felt that pain. I wish to help bring change. The goal here is not debate, this Middle is about shifting the noisy election lights over to this urgent need for so many citizens living with disabilities in BC.

Pre-emptively, a big “no thank you” to any offer of a study, survey, or report on this. Save time and get to it. A simple starting point would be long-promised curb cuts. For some restricted to wheelchairs, those curbs might as well be the walls of The Grand Canyon.

Yes, I am stressed by my teeny-tiny four-day stretch. Imagining what every day looks like for someone with no caregiver to help keeps me up at night.

Our system is simply not good enough. What’s required here is not only funding, but prioritization.

How any elected official would attempt to justify thousands and thousands of curbs without a small ramp to make it easier for people using wheelchairs, in 2020, needs to be put at the top of the docket.

If leaders are struggling how and where to start, I bet Rick would be happy to help. C’mon, let’s roll.

Jody Vance is a born and raised Vancouverite who’s spent 30 years in both local and national media. The first woman in the history of Canadian TV to host her own sports show in primetime, since 2011 she’s been working in both TV and radio covering news and current affairs.

SWIM ON:

SWIM ON