As you may have heard the fare gates at Vancouver SkyTrain are closing on July 25th. This has been an ongoing issue of concern because the NEW gates that TransLink spent millions on are inaccessible to some disabled patrons.
I posted that I did not believe the fare gates should close and someone on Twitter asked me my thoughts about the measures TransLink proposed to address this, (which they said they did in consultation with BC Disability Alliance). I couldn’t fit my reply in a tweet so…
Re TransLink fare gates and accessibility issues:
First of all, although it should be obvious, it is worth stating that I speak only for myself.
I am not a spokesperson for disabled people, nor do I believe such a person or organization exists.
Secondly, I have not been involved in the discussions or consultations between TransLink and the BC Disability Alliance. I am cognizant of and respect that they thus possess specific information I do not.
I also respect that we may disagree on matters of strategy without necessarily disagreeing on principles.
I do not know whether or not the individuals who can’t use the system as it exists are satisfied with an 18-month period of inaccessibility and the alternative options TransLink is offering.
(I would also note that none of us know how tourists or visitors who may expect a level of accessibility that no longer exists, feel about it – yes, disabled people do travel.)
With my particular disability, I personally can access the system in its current form.
Still I stand by my belief that the fare gates must remain open until they are truly accessible.
Let me explain:
The SkyTrain is no longer accessible. Some would argue it is just less accessible since you can technically still get in if you call, wait and have a staff person assist you in and out of the station. There is also, apparently the option of an armband, which may or may not accommodate some people’s needs.
But just as I don’t think a building is accessible even if they have staff willing to carry me up the stairs – nor a restaurant that ‘allows’ me to use their freight elevator – I do not consider the SkyTrain to be accessible with the fare gates closed.
Lots of services, places, attractions, events, walkways, stores, restaurants, hotels, etc. are not accessible – what makes the SkyTrain issue particularly egregious is that is WAS accessible.
The ‘plan’ is to rectify this – in 18 months.
Until then, the burden of dealing with TransLink’s error falls on some of its disabled users.
The question becomes is that a legitimate ask. In my opinion, the answer is no.
From my perspective TransLink should not even consider asking that of its users.
The system was accessible.
TransLink altered the design of the system.
Their design is flawed and not accessible therefore the responsibility is on them to alter the design to make it accessible and until then the status quo should be maintained.
Until TransLink can make the fare gates accessible, the fare gates must remain open.
I do not think this is unreasonable. What is unreasonable is asking users to pay (the exact same fare incidentally) for a service AFTER putting barriers in place that impede their right to equal use of the service.
I see absolutely no legitimate argument for proceeding with a change if that change is wrong and excludes a segment of the population.
In 2016 Canada, changing a public transportation system so that it is NO LONGER accessible is indefensible – for any period of time.
Months ago – maybe even a year – I took the SkyTrain and had to significantly alter my route because the elevators were shut down at the station I normally used. At the station I was directed to – by TransLink staff – I was able to go up one level but then the elevator to the street was not working. I found another elevator and managed to get to the mall level where I planned to take the elevators to the street. Unfortunately those elevators were shut down due to construction. Eventually I found some security guards who took me through the construction site to an elevator and finally I emerged at street level and got to my appointment so late I had to re-book it for another day.
My point? Accessibility is clearly not a priority for TransLink or in my opinion, many in Vancouver.
It is viewed as a privilege not a right. I am supposed to be grateful when it exists and silent, understanding and ‘reasonable’ when it does not.
I like to think I am a reasonable person.
I was recently wheeling down Davie Street when I reached the end of the block only to find out the sidewalk was completely torn up – no signs warning of this and no wood in order to cross the area.
This is not an unusual situation.
What is inconvenient to a non-disabled person can be an impossible barrier to someone who is disabled.
I do not take every ‘oversight’ to be deliberate. I understand there are things people who are not in my position simply do not experience or understand. I used to walk. Actually I used to run. Now I use wheels to move. The level of my ignorance before astounds me, especially since I had friends who were wheelchair users.
I do, however, hold those who are in public office and those who are building, renovating or designing in 2016 Canada to this standard – it is your duty to educate yourself on the needs of your community – ALL your community.
When I first became disabled my attitude was ‘nothing has changed – I am still the same person.’ The fact I could no longer stand was as insignificant a detail to who I am as the colour of my hair.
I was wrong.
Being disabled matters for many reasons. A large number of those reasons belong to ‘you’ – the non-disabled community. You make it matter. You exclude, you ignore and you assume. You demean, you deny and you negate. You occasionally ‘accommodate’ and want a badge to prove it. You demand gratitude for things you consider ‘givens’ in your own lives.
It also matters because of the perspective it has allowed me and for that I am grateful.
I believe I now have more to offer not less.
Perhaps it is a reflection of the fact that I was able to define and develop as a person before I had to bear the weight of disdain, pity and stigma – but I absolutely refuse to be grateful for what others in Canada take for granted – the ability to live, move and exist in the community.
To me, to surrender to the mentality of ‘I understand I am an inconvenience’ is death. That is not meant as hyperbole. If I accept your distinction of my rights as being of less importance than your own – it is accepting that my existence is less important than yours – and I do not accept that.
I refuse to accept any rationale or justification as to why accessibility should be a ‘sometimes, maybe’ and not an ‘always, absolutely’ component of any design or plan.
And I will not equate respect for my rights as a citizen with acts of kindness or charity.
There will be no special treats for treating me as an equal – because I am.
If that is what some consider unreasonable – than I suggest they look up the word reason.
Because it’s 2016, for reasons of strategy and for reasons of principle, I reject the excuses and I reject the offloading of TransLink’s error onto their patrons.
The gates must remain open.